Firehouse® Roundtable: Fire Station Design

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.


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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Distinguishing the "needs" from the "wants" of a fire department and balancing those needs with the realities of a budget. While this may be true of most building projects, there is the added nuance of public perception that has to be understood and overcome. Educating the public — as well as elected officials — as to the necessity of improved facilities that meet the day-to-day requirements of a modern fire department is oftentimes the biggest challenge in the design of a fire station.

Brian Harris, AIA, LEED AP, TCA Architecture Planning:

Each project brings new circumstances which shape and define the challenges and opportunities both the client and design team must address; however, in the current market, I would have to say the biggest challenge is funding because without that it is difficult to get much project momentum.

Lisa Quarls, AIA, Sizeler Thompson Brown Architects:

For design, it was trying to make a building able to withstand all of the natural forces that we deal with in (New Orleans): high winds, flooding, storm surge, tornados, termites, mold, etc. With the fact that Hurricane Katrina wiped out most of the buildings in this area, we wanted to make sure that this community would not have to go through that again. But since it is a fire station and the apparatus bay cannot be raised up 14 feet above the street, we made sure that the products that were used were as flood proof and durable as possible.

Donald Miller, Harrison Leifer DiMarco Public Relations:

From a PR standpoint, I've found that simpler, more functional designs seem to work best in terms of public approval. While a community may love their volunteers, they don't want to see money spent on overly lavish facilities funded by tax dollars. There needs to be a very compelling reason why a new firehouse is needed. An example would be many of the houses built on Long Island date back several decades, when apparatus was much smaller. One department I worked with had to take a deck gun off the top of one of its pumpers to clear the bay doors. Strict NFPA, OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) and other regulatory requirements make the need for today's firehouses to be larger too.

How important is it to involve firefighters in the design process?

Mark D. Shoemaker, AIA, LEED AP, CR architecture + design:

It is absolutely critical to involve firefighters. Not only do they provide valuable insight into the day-to-day operations of their own department, but they can provide critical support for the project as it moves through the approval process. If you do not have the support of the firefighters the station will support, it may be difficult to gain the support of the final decision makers — whether they be elected officials or the voters who have to give final approval for a tax levy or town vote. It is our belief that the firefighters are ultimately the client we are serving and if they are taken out of the process, and all the decision making is at a political level, the project may be doomed for failure.

Captain Jeff Tokar, Garland, TX, Fire Department:

We believe that since the firefighters live and work in the stations, they should have significant input to the design as long as it stays in line with the budget. Since most of our stations are the same blueprint, before we would build a new station I would query the firefighters living and working at the last stations built to seek their recommended changes.

Kirk Van Cleave, AIA, RRM Design Group:

Firefighters are just a great bunch of folks to work with — they are enthusiastic, outspoken, opinionated and appreciative: There is nothing more rewarding than having a client who appreciates the value an architect brings to a project.

Donald Miller, Harrison Leifer DiMarco Public Relations:

Firefighters are critical elements. From a design standpoint, they are the ones who use it every day and their input is vital in creating a design that is not only functional, but also helps ensure safe maneuvering when responding to an emergency. Similar to building or renovating your family home, you know best what your needs, now and hopefully in the future. In a public relations campaign, they are vital because they are so much a part of local communities and have a wide sphere of influence among neighbors, co-workers, friends and relatives.

What "green building" design elements have you used in your projects — and why?

Assistant Chief Susan Rosenthal, Seattle Fire Department: