Luck of the Irish

Last issue I shared with you a sad story about a small volunteer fire department in a small town. Let us all hope that tale of woe never happens to any of you.


This issue will be a little cheerier, no, a lot cheerier, I promise. Actually, this issue is a celebration, about a suburban fire company in a fast-growing community that protects over 18,000 people in 22 square miles, and one big target hazard. They have 55 active members currently. Because this is a celebration, I will actually be naming the department and the real people involved. I was contacted by the Limerick Fire Company in June 2015. Limerick is a volunteer company like the vast majority in the United States. Firefighter Patrick Fota, the project manager, contacted me through my website. They wanted to remodel and add on to their 6899 square-foot station. Approximately 3450 of the existing square footage was the apparatus bay; literally half. Their company was hoping to add an additional drive through bay to the apparatus room. With the exception of the restrooms, every other room in the living space was going to grow. The original building was a single story, wood frame with a brick-and-mortar exterior. Looking at the Program Statement Patrick shared with me, they were planning to gut the interior and save as much of the structural parts as they could. Since the building had been built in 1984, there was a lot of functional space that needed to be added to make it a 21st century firehouse. The program totaled 21,752 square feet. Their budget was $3.5 million.

They had plans drawn up by an architect who had worked with other firehouses in the area. With plans, they were able to get bids. Unfortunately, the bid came in at $5.2 million, twice. That number did not include soft costs. And I didn’t speak to Patrick again until October 2017 when I read in the newspaper they were having a grand opening.

Here’s what happened in between. Within a week they threw the remodel concept out and went back to the same architect. The new drawings were for a replacement building. The new plans reflected what they wanted in their original program statement. The architect introduced them to a pre-engineered building company. Some folks call them Butler Buildings because that is one of the companies that make these, there are others. Typically, what you gain is more building for your buck and potentially a shorter construction schedule. To quote Patrick, “The pre-engineered building made the difference.”

For construction management, the department hired a Clerk of the Works. This individual works in their own office trailer on site during the entire job. Their job is to represent the client on all matters and on a daily basis. Where I’m from we refer to them as the Inspector of Record (IOR).

As to be expected there are change orders. Patrick told me the change orders amounted to 7.2 percent of the budget or about $300,000. Those of you who are math whizzes are probably trying to reverse the calculations to know what the cost of the new building was. You can stop calculating, it was $4.5 million. Now this is $1 million over the original budget but the township had budgeted for a 10 percent overage. Smart township folks!

The new building was still $700,000 less than the remodel they originally planned. And that included the soft costs! That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call synergy. A major lesson here is thinking you can always save money by doing a remodel. Sometimes the less expensive course of action is to tear it down and build from the ground up. It pays to do your homework in this matter.

So, what did they get for their $4.5 million? A building that is almost three times the size of the old one. The building is almost 19,000 square feet. The app bay is five bays wide, (85 feet) and deep enough for two engines per bay and obviously deep enough for Tiller, (82 feet). All five bays are drive through. There is a TV monitor on the left side of every roll up door in the app bay. This gives them alarm, dispatch and response information in real time. Several other high-tech features in the app bay include a multiple LEDs warning if the rig is straight. A LED strip on the driver side is embedded in the floor of the apparatus bay. The strip flashes red as a warning that the rig is not lined up or blue if it is. There are also LEDs on the driver’s side of the interior and exterior walls next to the roll up doors. The exterior one is clearly visible in the driver’s side mirror. The system activates when the ignition is on. It stays on as long as the rig is within 50 feet of the firehouse.

The apparatus floor itself is two coats of epoxy finished off with one coat of urethane. There are three different colors of epoxy; gray is used in the area where the rigs drive. A lighter gray is used in between the rigs to indicate pedestrian space. There is a yellow stripe about four inches wide delineating the two shades of gray. That LED in the floor is between the yellow striped and the lighter gray pedestrian space.

The turnout room sits between the apparatus bay and the living space. The dark rectangles indicate the racks. The turnout room has racks for 72 sets of gear. Because the turnouts are adjacent to the day room and kitchen this space has exhaust fans. The room behind the turn out space is for decon and turnout cleaning. There are two store rooms and an engineer’s work space attached to the app bay also.

There is a watch office that is prominent at the front of the building to the left that is the front door. The first room on the left is their meeting room. As it is becoming the norm, it also doubles as an EOC. There are two rooms that open off of the meeting room that are support space. The far left rear corner of the first floor is the kitchen/dayroom. Kind of obvious but I thought I would point that out. One restroom and the janitorial room share plumbing with the kitchen. That reduces plumbing costs. Most of the plumbing on the second floor is not a long run to the first-floor connections either. There are two other public restrooms downstairs.

As you can see, the building has two stairwells. It’s always nice to see fire departments following their own fire code. It doesn’t always happen.

Upstairs, above the watch office, is a study area with a window that looks out into the app bay, nice feature. Across the front of the building are the administrative offices and conference rooms. All the firefighter bedrooms and bathrooms are upstairs. The two larger bedrooms actually have bunkbeds. There are two unique features of the second floor. The small bedrooms in the left rear corner are actually for college students. It is meant for them to live in the firehouse. These rooms have a bed, a desk and the wardrobe. Hopefully, these folks will become part of the volunteer company.

I know a lot of areas are struggling to maintain volunteer departments. I believe the state of Pennsylvania has lost over 10,000 volunteer firefighters in something like last 10 years.

The other unique feature is the exercise room on the second floor. I don’t remember what issue I wrote about this previously. The location of the exercise room is one that is seriously constrained by what I call the Adjacency Rule. The exercise room should never be over, under or next to sleeping quarters, offices, day rooms or meeting space. But even though this workout room is on the second floor it is not adjacent to any of the other rooms I listed and It is only above the turnout room and the decon room.

It is always interesting to see how the climate and the weather impact how the firehouse will be designed, built and used. When I first walked into the apparatus bay I was amazed at how high the roof/ceiling was. Patrick said it was 24 feet at its highest point at the front of the station. It slants back to the back wall. This was so that they could lift the ladders off the bed and service them. They can also tilt the cabs forward to access the engine for service. Lastly, as you can see from the photo, if you plan for it, you can practice repelling in your own building.

At this point, some of you must be wondering, “where did Limerick Fire Company store their apparatus during construction?” The company has five pieces of equipment. The ambulance, ladder truck and the field rig, (Brush Patrol) were housed in an empty garage owned by a local business. The fire police vehicle, rescue and engine were housed at the township garage

The most shocking piece of information about this project was the construction timeline. The construction was actually done in 10 months! This included the demolition of the existing firehouse because they built on the same site. So, a 32-year-old firehouse is knocked down and a 19,000-square foot building is in its place — over the winter — in Pennsylvania.

The builder submitted the building for an award with the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Regional chapter and took the Excellence Award for Metal/Pre-Fabricated buildings. Since they won locally they are submitting it for ABC’s national meeting in March of 2018.

If every fire department designs and builds a new firehouse as efficiently and effective as the Limerick Fire Company, I’d be out of a job! If any of you have questions for them, let me know. I’ll put you in touch with them.

Jim McClure is the owner of Firehouse Design and Construction (FD&C). The mission of FD&C is “to help firefighters, architects and government agencies design and build maintainable, durable, and most importantly, functional firehouses.” McClure’s career in public safety spans almost 29 years. For more information visit,, call 408-603-4417 or email

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