How Station Design and Construction Can Support Department Success

With the increased incidence of terrorist threats and attacks around the country, we have seen a major emphasis placed on properly equipping fire stations and training their personnel.

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The fire and rescue industry has made significant advancements in equipment, technology and training to ensure preparedness of first responders. These efforts can be furthered with smart design and construction of new fire stations. In this article, we offer an overview of recent trends and technologies in fire station architectural design and construction.

Training Facilities

When planning the design of your new station, consider numerous training elements to keep your personnel performing at peak levels. The ability to conduct training onsite has long been the practice of modern fire and rescue facilities. Today’s stations incorporate a number of design features that enable effective training.

We encourage fire departments to build new stations with training rooms sizable enough to conduct both classroom-style and practical training. The space may also be useful for community events and meetings, as community outreach is often a role of the local station.

Incorporating a training wall in the building’s interior or the apparatus bay allows for training on ladders, forced entry and exit, and confined spaces. On the exterior of the building, a training tower is a valuable tool that allows firefighters to maintain their skills with ladder raises and carries, rope rescue, search and rescue, repelling, and vertical confined space training. Fortunately, training towers don’t have to be an eyesore; they can be designed to complement the height and aesthetics of surrounding community buildings.

Response Times

In any emergency environment, time is of the essence. Your new fire station should support your department in a fast, efficient and safe exit of the station to help you arrive on the scene at the earliest possible moment.

Talk with your design-build company about design elements that support this goal. Strategies include:

  • Utilizing a single-story design — if the site allows — to eliminate the need for stairs and fire poles
  • Providing a clear path from any point in the station to the apparatus bay
  • Having as few doors as possible in the access path
  • Swinging any necessary doors toward the apparatus bay to prevent bottlenecks

In addition to these functional design considerations, we recommend four-fold side motion doors. They are superior to conventional rolling and sectional overhead doors in terms of operating speed and safe exit for your personnel. The upfront cost of four-fold doors is more than conventional overhead doors; however, the functional benefits, durability and longevity of the doors, and ease of maintenance yield a fast return on investment.

Community Needs

Fire stations exist to serve their communities, so evaluating the varied needs is an important step when planning new station construction.

Select a building site for the new station considering the distance and travel time within the community, as well as ease of traffic flow around the facility. The placement of the station on the site and the driveways exiting the property should be positioned to best access the surrounding neighborhoods and commercial districts.

Fire stations often serve as gathering space for meetings and social events. Therefore, departments may want to think about the use of interior space, like a training room, as well as outside patio/picnic areas where activities can take place. Hosting community events brings people together and helps your department maintain support and endorsement from residents and community leaders.

Speaking of stakeholder support, getting the buy-in of the community when planning your station can help smooth the process. Some departments hold open forums for community members to see and comment on the design concept, site plan and landscaping plan. This gives you the opportunity to present your plans and show neighbors how they will benefit from the new facility.

Health and Safety

Firefighters are already in a profession that places them at risk. As construction professionals, we see it as our duty to provide the safest possible facility for their use when they’re not out fighting fires. For example, drive-through vehicle bays enable personnel to pull forward and reduce the need for backing apparatus. This helps reduce accidents to individuals and equipment.

Four-fold doors also help prevent accidents related to apparatus coming in contact with the building. These doors are quick to open and are always visible to the driver, thereby mitigating collisions.

Another aspect your general contractor can help control is vehicle exhaust from apparatus. Some fire departments have set 100 percent source capture as the goal and are installing vehicle exhaust removal systems that attach a hose to the tailpipe of the apparatus, preventing contaminants from escaping into the bays.

Some reports show a leading cause of death in firefighters is heart attack and cardiovascular disease. To combat heart attack and stroke, many departments are including a functional exercise room in new stations to encourage fitness. This provides both on-duty and off-duty personnel an area to maintain a healthy heart and lungs in a comfortable atmosphere.

With the increasing popularity of sustainable buildings, natural light and improved air quality prove to have a significant positive impact on employee health and productivity. In a recent study, workers in green-certified buildings scored 26 percent higher on cognitive function tests (controlling for annual earnings, job category and level of schooling) than those in non-certified buildings.1 Furthermore, employees working in sustainable buildings had 30 percent fewer sick building symptoms (sickness associated with air quality) than their counterparts in non-green buildings.

Natural light is another aspect of green buildings that has meaningful advantages. Multiples studies show that employees who work in buildings with ample natural light and a view of the outdoors maintain better moods, are more alert and experience less eyestrain.2 These statistics and many others point to sustainable buildings as a path to a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.

Your new facility can contribute significantly to enabling your team to meet the needs of the community you serve. Start by talking with a design-build team that has experience building fire and rescue facilities. They will have insights from other projects that will inevitably add value to your new station.

  1. Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360132316304723
  2. Source: https://hbr.org/2018/09/the-1-office-perk-natural-light
Matt Culler is a Project Developer at Bobbitt Design Build, a leading design-build contractor of fire and rescue facilities throughout the Carolinas.

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