New Firehouse Under Construction

I was recently visiting one of my sisters on the East Coast. She lives in one of the hurricane states. She took me out to breakfast one morning and lo and behold across the street is a firehouse under construction. Two days later I walk up, asked for the superintendent and introduced myself. I took lots of pictures, asked a few questions and thought I would share my observations with all of you.

The exterior is typical for the area, more modern than traditional. There are two bays approximately 75 feet long. I have no idea what equipment will be stationed there but the bays are long enough to double stack a couple of pumpers and, of course, more than long enough for a tiller. The watch office is at the front of the building and has an expanse of glass, giving the crew full view of the apron and street in front of them.


Hurricane ready concrete roof.

This may sound like a “Well Duh” moment but one of the stations I worked on had the front door on the side and not on the front where the app bay doors were! I fought both the design architects and the city architects but lost the battle. The lesson here is, when you see something you don’t like or you don’t understand bring it up the first time you see it on paper. Otherwise, you’ll hear, “it’s too late.” These sorts of changes are not a big deal if you bring them up early in the design process.  When we recycled that floor plan several years later I made damn sure the front door was on the front of the building!

There is also a bedroom attached to the watch office. It is only accessible through the watch office and does not have lockers. I have no experience with that type of set up but I’m sure some of you do. Whoever has the night watch gets to rack out?

Walking in the front door I look up and like what I see; T-Bar suspended ceilings. This system solves a lot of problems related to maintenance. A lot of wires, cables, conduit, water pipe, sprinkler pipe run above ceilings, including sewer pipe in multi-story buildings. With sheetrock ceilings there is always some hesitation to punch through and investigate the problem. T-Bar ceilings only work for access if they are the 2’ x 4’ tiles. Some architects like to spec 2’ x 2’. Don’t let them. There is a 2’ x 4’ tile that looks like two 2’ x 2’ tiles. There’s not much room for shoulders and a wrench in a 2’ x 2’ hole while you’re standing on a ladder.

The captain’s office is also in the front and has a bedroom right next to the office. The Captain shares a Jack and Jill bathroom with the other officer in the building. I guess both of them will have to remember to lock the opposite door when they use the bathroom. When I saw this arrangement, I imagined an electronic sensor that if one door opens the opposite door would automatically lock or something like that.

In addition to the two officer’s bedrooms and their Jack and Jill bathroom there are five bedrooms and three bathrooms down the central hallway. One of the restrooms is ADA compliant including the shower.

There was a second office but I’m not sure if it was for second officer or the crew in general. It has two work stations. The bedrooms have one bed each and four lockers. I knew they have three shifts and I was really happy to see four lockers. My designs always call for a spare locker. Why? Glad you asked. When somebody goes on vacation or is off on disability or just sick for a shift, do you think they clean out their locker for the relief firefighter? Of course, they don’t. Therefore, there needs to be an empty locker in each bedroom for whoever is covering the shift; especially for multiple tours. I was happy to see a wall mounted light above the head of each bed. Nothing like reading in bed to wind down and fall asleep after a late-night call. Just as important; the light was an LED tube mounted horizontally. The only firehouse my agency built in the last 20 years that I didn’t work on had very fancy double elbow jointed reading lights above the head of the bed. Anybody want to start a pool as to how many weeks they lasted? When it comes to firefighters, the less moving parts the better.

The first two firehouses I worked on had the bathrooms as separate facilities like the ones I found at this station. There was concern that somebody would be walking to or from the bedroom or the bathroom in less than appropriate attire.  We ran into this problem more than once. There were women on the department but not enough that every station, every shift had one on the roster. Stations could go weeks without a female firefighter rotating through. This meant that, sometimes, the guys would forget when there was a female firefighter in the building. I know I’ve mentioned this sometime in the past but our solution was to put a bathroom in every bedroom. Privacy problem solved, if you remember to lock the door. The upstairs of our new stations looks like a Motel 6; just a corridor with doors on both sides. As our new stations came online, there were some complaints about the bedrooms replacing dorms design was being driven by the fact that we had female firefighters. My response was always the same, “yes, but” statistically there must be some gay men on the department already. What are you going to do when one of them comes out?” Within the year, two men did. One was a classmate of mine, 20 years earlier.

When designing firehouses one of my biggest concerns is adjacencies. There are certain rooms that do not belong next to other certain rooms. For example, exercise rooms do not belong next to any of the bedrooms. There should be separation between bedrooms the day room and the kitchen. In other words, the noisy rooms should not be near the bedrooms. Unfortunately, this station has the exercise room sharing a wall with one of the bedrooms. I don’t know about this department but some agencies have firefighters that live a considerable distance away. As a result, some of those folks show up at 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning. Do you want to be sleeping in the room next-door when this individual decides to throw some iron around before breakfast? Didn’t think so. Maybe one of the six utility spaces on the far side of the app bay could have been swapped out in place of the exercise room. Maybe the plans call for a double thick, double insulated wall?

And this takes us to every firefighter’s favorite room. No, not the dorm, the kitchen! While nothing but the walls were up this kitchen is going to be amazing. This is a great room concept with the kitchen, dining table and the dayroom all within the same four walls. Earlier, I mentioned that I knew they had three shifts. This was because there were three walk-in pantries in the kitchen; each with its own refrigerator. I paced them off. The pantries are about 7’ x 8’. It’s too soon to tell if they’re will be locks on this pantry doors. What do you think? There is a fourth refrigerator in the working space of the kitchen. All the stainless-steel countertops were already staged on site. I glanced at the plan set and saw that the stainless-steel counter tops called for a marine edge. If you’re not familiar with that, look it up. The plans also called for a pot rack hanging over the peninsula countertop. It takes planning to insure the framing for the pot rack is in the right place over the counter. These last two items were also part of our kitchens. Glad to see there are others that think like me.

More on the kitchen story; the plan set called for an integral stainless-steel sink set in the stainless- steel countertop. The specifications for the stations I was involved in called for the stainless- steel counter and backsplash to be integral. In our minds, that meant no seams, no caulk, no leaks, no mold. A city engineer and I walked into the kitchen for our regularly scheduled weekly meeting. Waiting for us, was not only the site superintendent but his boss and his boss. Odd. Sitting on the stainless- steel counter was a dictionary. Even more odd. The problem became quickly apparent. The counter top and backsplash had been installed since our last visit. The stainless steel had not been formed out of one continuous or integral piece of stainless steel. There was a seam at the 90° meeting point at the back of the counter. The next thing I know I’m getting a two-inch thick dictionary shoved down my throat because their dictionary definition did not match mine. Their sub-contractor screwed up and the boss managed to use a dictionary to get out of having to rip out the stainless steel and redo it completely. Let’s just say I wasn’t my politest at that moment. Oh, and we changed future specifications to use the phrase continuous and seamless. Lessons learned. Based on the size of the exhaust hood it looks like they are getting a commercial stove.

The plan set calls for a table for 10. The maximum crew is seven based on the number of bedrooms, so there is always room for guests at the table. The plans showed nine recliners. For those of you addicted to caffeinated beverage, you’ll be happy to know there is a separate coffee bar at the back of the dayroom. It has a microwave oven to reheat the coffee that you brewed an hour ago right before you rolled out on a call. Or, you set your coffee down on the bumper and the rig took off with it, at least until it hit the driveway. The great room is in the back of the station giving the crew more privacy. The back door opens up to a back patio and the parking lot. This certainly beats the layout of a 1949 firehouse that I eventually demolished and replaced. The front door opened right into the dining room. It was always an awkward moment when we had to answer the door in the middle of dinner; more so for the public I think.

About the parking lot: there is a passage door into the back of the station. All of you have probably worked in an old station where the only way into the building from the back was to open the app doors.

I mentioned the six rooms on the far side of the app bay. One is the electrical room. This may sound counterintuitive but the door is on the exterior of the firehouse. This frees up wall space on the inside of the app bay wall. Don’t worry, you won’t have to go outside to reset a breaker. The panels are inside. Speaking of wall space, the mop room door opens up right into the mop sink and the utility sink. If anybody is standing there and somebody else opens the door they will get hit the back of the head. They’d have to wedge the door halfway open to safely have enough space at the sinks. With a concrete block wall and concrete floor, it is too late now but they should’ve either moved the door or move the sinks while it was only on paper. Otherwise, the string of rooms is pretty functional. Two rooms for storage, an EMS supply room and a turnout room. The washer, dryer and extractor are in the same room with the sinks.

What I did not see was a decon room or space. Admittedly, the building is not finished and it just might not have been installed yet. We realized the need for decon showers a little late. Our safety officer scoured all the literature you could find to see whether we did or did not need to install them. One sentence in one document said something to the effect, if the employee may be exposed to harmful substances decontamination must be provided. That simple three letter word, may, drove the decision-making from there. I suspect I’ve written about this sometime in the last five years but decon is a subject that bears repeating. We put our decon area in the app bay but on the living side. That way everyone has to pass it on the way in.

In 1900 Henry Ford built his third vehicle. It was a truck. In 1917 he rolled out his first one-ton chassis truck. Apparently, with over 100 years of experience, we still can’t safely back up trucks. This station has got Bollards protecting the doors inside and out. So, whether you’re going forward, backing in or backing out we, as a tribe, still have not mastered the art of straight-line navigation. This is nothing against these guys. I built them the same way. Twenty years ago, Gordon Graham had an interesting observation about backing in. He questioned senior staff about the discipline given for backing up accidents. Since they were still occurring, he asked, “how’s that discipline policy working out for you”? Crickets.

Security cameras are all around the building. A sad statement of the times.

On a positive note; the front apron square footage qualifies as a parking lot. It has to be 70 feet deep; plenty of room to pull out or back in if you have to. Additionally, the curb cut is 100 feet wide which allows for easy turns.

I saw the generator set in the rear parking lot. It is a big beast. The elevated base was enclosed so I couldn’t tell if that was a belly tank underneath it or if it ran on natural gas. It was locked so I couldn’t see what the ratings were. I then went looking for the electrical panels. Between the two of them there was 625 Amps, three phase power. In case you don’t know, three phase power is better for running machinery. Of course, those motors have to be built for three phase.

Lastly, I mentioned hurricane states in the beginning. The app bay ceiling is a testament to the power of hurricanes. When I first looked up, I thought, “wow, that is a lot of concrete.” Then I remembered where I was. The ceiling/roof structure was made up of pre-cast concrete. They were cast in the shape of an upside-down U about four feet wide, spanning the width of the app bay.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, snow load, freezing and earthquakes; no matter what part of the country we work in, Mother Nature forces the design of
our buildings.

See you in 90 days, Jim

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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