A fire station is more than a house with a big garage — as anyone who has experienced the travails of funding, designing and constructing a new one (or remodeling an old one) can attest. Over the years, firehouses have gone from mere places of storage for hand pumpers retrieved by...
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"We searched for innovative ways of dealing with this particular issue in the design of the two fire stations (the 13,000-square-foot Boothville Fire Station and two-story, 12,800-square-foot Port Sulphur Fire Complex)," she said. "The concept was to find a structural system that would go up quickly with limited manpower (and) the need for many separate trades to get the base structure up was eliminated." Reconstruction efforts in that parish make liberal use of structural concrete insulated panels (SCIP) — concrete-coated prefabricated foam panels that are also used to construct cheap housing in South Africa.
A similar material is being used by Fort Worth, TX-based Speed Fab-Crete, which is preparing to build a two-story fire station for the small volunteer fire department of Fate, in the outskirts of Dallas. The 9,200-square-foot building, whose pre-cast concrete walls will be finished in traditional brick and cast-stone arches, will cost $1.6 million and be completed under a single contract, rather than contracting out separate architectural, engineering and construction services.
This design-build method (as opposed to the traditional design-bid-build system) results in "lower costs, faster construction, wish lists made true, less expensive fire and storm insurance coverage, less maintenance and … the safest building in town with more bang for the buck," said company president David Bloxom.
The company, started in 1951, has also built fire facilities for the Texas cities of Rockwell, Lake Worth, Kennedale, Lucas, Hudson Oaks, Nassau Bay, Flower Mound and Wilmer-Hutchins.
Of course, most fire station projects are not so unorthodox. More likely, after much public debate and studies, local leaders will decide — based on response times, safety, accessibility requirements or growth issues — that a newer or improved firehouse is required. So begins a long, and often confusing, or even frustrating, journey for a department.
"If you're a fire department who has not built a fire station in the last 20 years, you need to consult or hire a professional who knows the current requirements based on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, Americans with Disabilities (Act) standards, and local codes and ordinances," said Paul Mickelberg, principal of Welman Sperides Mickelberg Architects. The Tucson, AZ-based firm has designed more than 60 fire stations nationally, including the Tucson Fire Department's new $38 million headquarters building (see page 114). It has also been on the forefront of designing environmentally responsible public-safety facilities — as verified by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification — including the first fire station in Arizona to earn LEED Gold certification.
Choosing the right architectural firm is paramount to a successful station project. Building contractors and skilled workers build the station literally, but only after an architect has designed and figuratively "built" the station in his mind and on paper. The architect's role is also to guide a department through the process of identifying whether new construction, renovation or adaptive reuse is the best route to achieve your goals. He or she helps with site selection — where to build the station, based on traffic flow, response times, seismic stability or other considerations — and with site design that illustrates how a station will operate in terms of layout, equipment location and building code compliance, among other considerations.
It is at this point that architects should be talking with city planners and other stakeholders, including fire department administration, to ensure that all views are heard and considered. Ideally, an architect will also be talking with firefighters in the field — and perhaps even spending time in a working station, on various shifts, to get a feel for day-to-day operations and a greater appreciation of the firehouse lifestyle.
Working in Concert
An architectural firms acts as "conductor" for other players in a diverse symphony, which include mechanical and electrical engineers, plumbing professionals, interior designers, landscape architects, security consultants and communication systems professionals that will work on everything from telephone service and Internet access to complex station alerting systems and emergency power generating contingency plans.