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Fire stations are among the most complex, heavily used municipal buildings found anywhere. Simultaneously, they are garages housing millions of dollars’ worth of apparatus; they are dormitories; and they have expansive kitchens, training rooms and public meeting facilities as well as administrative office space.
And, they are expected to last decades – sometimes under around-the-clock, heavy-duty service. That’s why it is important to ensure they are designed for the purpose in which they are intended and built using the best materials available.
Firehouse® Magazine interviewed several architects to compile their comments on best practices for how to design and build a fire station for today’s (and tomorrow’s) fire service needs. They were unanimous in their appraisals and comments – hire professionals with experience building complex, purpose-built fire stations; your community will be better off for it and future generations will be thankful you did.
In this supplement, you can find comments and advice from some of the nation’s leading fire station architects, including Lawrence Enyart of LEA Architects in Phoenix, AZ; Brian Harris of TCA Architects in Seattle, WA; Bob Mitchell of Mitchell Associates Architects in Voorheesville, NY; and Dennis Ross of Pacheco Ross Architects, also in Voorheesville, NY. Between them, these professionals have decades of experience and have designed hundreds of fire stations across the country. Here’s what each of these respected, award-winning professionals had to say.
Building “a home away from home for firefighters”
Lawrence Enyart founded LEA-Architects in 1975 and his firm has designed more than 150 fire stations in that time, many receiving high praise and awards. His philosophy about fire stations is straightforward – the buildings should be simple, highly functional and fit into the neighborhoods and environments in which they are constructed.
“A fire station is a home away from home for firefighters,” Enyart said. “They’re going to be cooking there, sleeping there, working there and responding from there. The building must be fully functional and be accessible to the public.”
Above all else, fire stations must be simple to navigate. “In an emergency, you don’t want to need a road map to find your way around,” he said. “When just a few seconds count in an EMS medical response, being able to move quickly is paramount for helping a victim. Same is true in a structure fire. Everything should be very simple and designed for easy maneuverability.”
For Enyart, function comes first and is just as important as quality when it comes to public buildings. “These buildings are going to be occupied and used 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so they need to be very well built,” Enyart said. “They need to be able to withstand a lot of activity, so they need durable floors and masonry walls where appropriate. Quality is very important.”
Quality and excellence do not mean the fire station needs to be “gold-plated or embellished” excessively, but it does need to have an understated excellence befitting a public building, typically paid for with taxpayers’ dollars, according to Enyart. “These buildings typically have to last 50 to 100 years, so they have to be well built,” he said.
Fire stations have many unique functions that must be considered. For instance, Enyart said, there aren’t many buildings that house apparatus, training rooms, kitchens, dormitories, offices, meeting rooms, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) maintenance shops and, in some cases, medical examination rooms. All of the uses must be considered when designing a fire station and determining how best to integrate all those functions and needs, he said. Fire stations are also exposed to all kinds of hazardous materials and blood-borne pathogens that must be dealt with appropriately and isolated from the public and the firefighters who live in the stations, according to Enyart.