Station Design Supplement: Part 1 - Built to Last

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...


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During the initial considerations about constructing a new fire station, communities should consider whether to renovate and expand existing structures, Mitchell said. The feasibility of renovating existing space often boils down to the quality of the original construction. For instance, a 1914 fire station in Cortland, NY, was so well built that it made sense to renovate it and adapt it for today’s use. Yet, a building in another community that was constructed in 1952 was unsuitable because of its design and materials used.


That’s why when Mitchell designs a building for new construction, he calls for stainless-steel reinforcements in masonry work and anchor points to prevent concrete spalling. Even door hinges that attach to concrete ought to be made out of stainless to last the lifetime of the building, he said.


“Buildings should be constructed to last and be operable and low maintenance for their entire life cycles,” Mitchell said.

 

Weighing the options

Dennis Ross is co-owner of Pacheco Ross Architects, a firm dedicated exclusively to the design of fire stations and emergency response facilities. Ross, who has 35 years of experience as an architect, said most fire chiefs and communities really don’t know what to expect when it comes to building a new fire station. That’s why he highly recommends those in the market for new emergency response facilities “do a little research” and find a qualified architect to walk through the entire process to make sure the department gets what it needs and expects. “I recommend attending one of the station design symposiums or going online to find a qualified architect,” Ross said.


A third-party professional will help steer a project, Ross said, adding that hiring a professional is all part of doing “due diligence” and making sure the community gets a facility that it can use and will last. “We are going to come in and propose a feasibility study that is going to look at all the parts and pieces of the project,” he said.


The first thing to look at is the lot upon which the new station is going to be built. Ross said communities should be looking at four- and five-acre parcels for new fire stations. Any facility that is going to have to last up to 70 years must have room for expansion.


A broad-based study that covers a variety of ideas and options would be the first step in constructing a fire station, Ross said, noting that an investment of about $25,000 would yield a very solid study upon which decisions can be based. When considering the cost of a new station, a study is a sound investment that could save a lot of headaches and costly mistakes in the future, he said, adding that any study should take into consideration existing facilities to see whether they are usable.


“There’s no reason to go out and buy a $1 million piece of property if you don’t need to,” Ross said. “Or, you could learn that what you have is not worth saving and would be an unwise investment to save.”


After the study has been completed, communities would move to a request for quotation (RFQ) to actually draft specifications and designs, Ross said. Much of what happens during the design and building of a fire station is based on relationships, so it is important to find the right partner. “It’s going to be a two- or three-year-long road, so you are going to need to get along with your architect,” Ross said.


As a relationship and trust is formed between the client and the architect, the real work begins with the designing of the facility, according to Ross. “You know how your department operates,” Ross said. “You know what you need. You know what you need for a meeting room. You know if you need an SCBA repair room.” And then there are things the architect knows that the responders might not know, like the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires four sinks for SCBA mask cleaning, Ross said.


There are many questions a fire station designer might ask like what kind of training the department does or if a special room for gear is required, he said. Pacheco Ross Architects has a “very detailed” questionnaire that runs about 20 pages that will help determine exactly the kind of facility that’s required to meet individual department needs. “Everybody wants to jump straight to the big, beautiful pictures, but there’s a lot of work that has to happen before those are created,” Ross said.