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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Each project was designed with environmental issues in mind. Provisions were made for motion-activated lighting in most areas, so lights turn on automatically upon entering a room and shut off when there is no movement detected in the designated space.

All stations are designed to be a controlled environment using computer controlled HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) and minimal opening windows. Rainwater is captured on the roof, filtered and reused in toilet flushing, apparatus washing and landscape watering. Floor coverings were evaluated for maintenance issues as well as environmental correctness. UV filtering is used to cover windows and impervious surfaces are significantly reduced to limit rainwater runoff.

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

Our fire stations typically include basic green elements relative to interior finishes and the building envelope by using low-VOC (volatile organic compound) material and recycled materials. Special elements we have incorporated for enhanced sustainable design have included rainwater harvesting for lawn irrigation, building gray water and truck fill/washing, solar energy for domestic water heating geo-thermal systems for building heating and cooling, and bio-retention, rain gardens and pervious pavement systems for storm water.

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

We actually designed the first LEED-certified fire station in the country a few years back and since that time our understanding and philosophy relative to "green" design has changed significantly. We always take an operations-first approach to sustainability with an emphasis on durability, low maintenance, firefighter safety and long-term operational savings. These are essential facilities, and that primary function must be fully supported.

Tightening up building envelopes and reducing energy consumption so the buildings sip energy instead of gulp energy is key. We have incorporated geothermal systems, rainwater catchment systems, solar hot water, rainscreen cladding systems, energy monitoring dashboards, pervious paving, green roofs, heat recovery ventilation, gray water use and on-site materials use.

What are some "lessons learned" from your past projects?

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

With each project there are lessons learned about process and design. We have found that what works for one project does not necessarily work for another. So having an array of proven tools to use allows us to respond quickly to this non-linear process. There are also oddball details we have just missed over our 50-year history. For example, never put a light near an intake grille in an area that has seasonal bug issues. Bugs like light and they get sucked right into the building.

Kirk Van Cleave, AIA, RRM Design Group:

Overhead panel doors have a high maintenance record, and so the design of bi fold doors has worked its way into station design. … Additionally, if products or systems don't live up to their hype, we don't specify them in future stations. Lessons learned are taught to all staff at regular in house trainings and they are also incorporated into our standard drawing details and project specifications.

Any last bit of advice for those who are undertaking fire station design projects?

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

Take time to do it right, and do not rush through the process. These are 30- to 50-year facilities typically. Understand what has worked (and not worked) for others — and most importantly, why. Each project is driven by its own set of circumstances.

Engage and enjoy the process. It is a significant time effort, (more than one might imagine) and ultimate achievement to get a facility designed and constructed. There will always be those could haves, would haves, should haves. Use your experience to teach others, because this will ultimately assist in the evolution of these facilities for future generations.

BRYN BAILER is a freelance reporter and writer who specializes in public-safety issues. She is a member of the Tucson, AZ, Police Department Communications Division.