Key Considerations for Today’s Fire Station Architecture and Construction

With recent civil unrest and acts of terrorism on domestic soil, we’ve come to realize that no community is immune to potential incidents. As a result, training and readiness of first responders is more critical than ever — not only in our cities, but also in communities across North and South Carolina. Properly training emergency personnel and equipping fire stations has taken on new meaning. image

Like any and all industries, significant advances continue to be made in the equipment, technology and training in the field of fire and rescue. When planning, designing and building a new facility, today’s technologies and tomorrow’s needs should be carefully considered. Here we offer an overview of some of the latest trends in fire station design and construction.

Training Needs

The ability to train personnel on site continues to be a major source of conversation when the design of a new station is being planned. These training elements can be factored into your fire station design with relative ease:

  • Every new station should have a training room large enough to accommodate the needs of the station, with consideration given to hosting occasional community events. Community outreach is an important part of the duties of each station.
  • A training wall can easily be inserted into an interior wall or placed in the apparatus bays to allow for ladder training, forced entry/exit, and confined space training. 
  • Consider the inclusion of a training tower. Typically the tower will match closely in height the typical make-up of the surrounding community architecture. The tower can be used for numerous training possibilities, including ladder raises and carries, rope rescue, search and rescue, repelling, and vertical confined space training.
  • Consider any other training needs to keep your personnel performing at peak levels.

Reducing Response Times

As you already know, one of the keys to successful fire fighting is to arrive on the scene at the earliest possible moment. When building a new station, focus on elements of design that will allow for a reduction in the time it takes your personnel to respond. Numerous design elements can be incorporated at little or no cost to the station to aid in this endeavor.

  • First and foremost, utilize a single story design — if the site plan allows — so the use of stairs or fire poles is eliminated. Providing a clear and easily accessible path from any point in the station to the apparatus bays is critical. 
  • Place as few doors in the access path as possible. When doors are necessary, always swing toward the apparatus bay to prevent bottlenecks. 
  • Four-fold side motion doors are not a new technology but are being installed in new fire stations with great frequency. When compared to conventional rolling or sectional overhead doors, they have much to offer. The operating speed of the four-fold doors is approximately 2.5 times greater than that of the overhead doors, providing a much quicker and safer exit for your personnel. Although the initial cost for four-fold doors is more than conventional overhead doors, door longevity is increased and maintenance is significantly reduced.

Community Relations

The placement of fire stations is typically determined by distance and travel time within the community it serves. This often means placing a fire station in or near a subdivision or commercial district. Due to the close ties the station has with the community and to foster community acceptance of the station, consider holding an open forum for the community to comment on the design concept, site plan and landscaping plan. Provide them with the reasoning behind the location of the new station and how it will better serve the community. Considerations may include:

  • The architectural design should complement the style of the existing surroundings. Thinking too far inside or outside the box when designing a station can have a negative impact on acceptance by local residents. 
  • Many new stations are including an exterior patio/BBQ area where they can host and cook for fundraising and community events. Providing local citizens an opportunity to visit the station in a comfortable setting allows your station to maintain continued support and endorsement from the community.

Health and Safety

Our firefighters are already in a profession that puts their lives at risk every day. It is our duty as design and construction professionals to provide them with the safest facility possible when they are not out fighting fires.

  • Drive-thru vehicle bays are recommended so that your personnel are not required to pull into the street to back the apparatus in, and they protect the apparatus from accidental damage. This should be a major factor when selecting your site.
  • Vehicle exhaust from apparatus is a real danger to our firefighters. Exhaust has been proven to cause or contribute to serious illness and death. There are numerous possibilities for the removal or filtration of vehicle exhaust fumes. Many fire departments are deciding that 100 percent source capture is their goal and are installing vehicle exhaust removal systems that attach a hose to the tailpipe of the apparatus, allowing no contaminants to escape into the bays.
  • Four-fold doors should be installed, if the budget permits, to avoid possible accidents between apparatus and building. Due to the rate the doors open and the fact that they are always visible to the driver, accidents can be mitigated by their installation. We have all seen an apparatus scrape or hit an overhead door on their way out of the bay and understand the costs involved to repair both.
  • The leading cause of death among firefighters is heart attack and cardio vascular disease. In an effort to combat heart attack and stroke, many stations are requesting the inclusion of a large and functional exercise room. This provides both on-duty and off-duty personnel with an area in which to build strength and cardio vascular health. At a minimum, an exercise bike, treadmill, and free weights should be provided for their use.
  • With the development of LEED programs, many studies have been conducted regarding employee productivity and health in relation to natural lighting. One study has shown a three to 18 percent gain in productivity and a decrease in sick days of up to five percent in buildings with daylight/natural lighting systems. It should come as no surprise then that most building committees have this at the forefront of their plans for a new station. 

Sustainable Design

Green building directly benefits building owners through lower energy bills, lower water usage, sustainable buildings and healthier environments for occupants.

  • Many fire departments are starting with small steps such as choosing healthier flooring materials and lower VOC paints.
  • Pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification will provide additional opportunities for sustainability. A project team affiliated with the U.S. Green Building Council and with LEED Accredited Professionals can advise you on green building options. 

Your facility is crucial to the success of your department and to the overall protection you provide to your communities and your personnel. When selecting your design-builder, look for a company that has extensive experience and competence in designing and building fire stations.

Benjamin Wilson is President of Bobbitt Design Build, a leading design-build contractor for fire and rescue facilities throughout the Carolinas.

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