Station Design Supplement: Part 2 - Outfitting Your Fire Station

When the bricks-and-mortar phase of building a fire station has been completed, many items still must go into it. Beds, recliners, garage doors, engine exhaust systems, alert systems and turnout gear storage systems are just a few of the items needed to outfit a fire station.
Firehouse® Magazine interviewed providers of fire station equipment and fixtures about their recommendations on what is needed to get a new emergency response building up and running.


Clearing the air

One of the most dangerous on-the-job hazards facing emergency responders today is engine exhaust emissions. It is no wonder that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that new fire stations have complete exhaust systems to remove fumes and particulates from buildings, according to John Koris, the sales manager for Air Vacuum Corp. AirVac is a manufacturer of engine exhaust removal systems headquartered in Dover, NH.

“Diesel exhaust contains nitrogen dioxide, VOCs [volatile organic compounds], benzene and known carcinogens,” Koris said. “Those are things you don’t want in your fire station.” He said AirVac is a system that filters the air and is completely automatic with no hose connections to be made. It also operates automatically as vehicles enter and exit the station.

“Ninety-nine percent of emergency vehicles today use diesel engines,” Koris said. “The World Health Organization has said diesel exhaust is a carcinogen, not just a suspected carcinogen so, you have get it out of the station.”

Koris said AirVac differs from other products in that it circulates and filters all the air in the station and does not require any hose connections. The company is the only one of its kind dedicated to fire and EMS stations, according to Koris.

Mike Johnson, vice president of sales for Cincinnati, OH-based MagneGrip, said there are more reasons to have exhaust removal systems than to just comply with NFPA recommendations. Magne-Grip offers a direct-capture system with hoses that attach to the trucks and ceiling-mounted filtration units.

“It’s a matter of health and safety for the firefighters who are inside the station all the time,” Johnson said. “They go out and fight fires and breathe in all kinds of bad stuff, so they shouldn’t have to come back into the station and breathe bad air there too.”

When a station is being built is the time for fire departments to consider exhaust removal systems, Johnson said. “It’s too difficult to go back to the community and ask for more money to install them after the fact,” he said.

Johnson said MagneGrip has been making direct-capture exhaust removal systems for about 18 years with lines that grip on the apparatus exhaust to remove vehicle emissions at the source. About five years ago, the company acquired a line of ceiling-mounted systems to give fire departments complete coverage. That line is called AirHAWK air purification systems. “We sell a lot of dual systems with both the hoses and the ceiling-mounted systems,” Johnson said. “It gives departments complete protection.”

The hose system captures emissions at the source and exhausts them from the building while the ceiling-mounted systems pick up any remaining contaminants left in the building, Johnson said. Any leftover soot and gases from the vehicles and testing of small engines, like portable pumps and chain saws, is automatically picked up by the ceiling-mounted filtration system, Johnson said. Additionally, any off-gassing from turnout gear, hose or other equipment that has been contaminated at the scene of a fire is picked up by the filtration system, he said.

Too often, Johnson said, he has seen fire departments scratch exhaust removal and filtration systems from their station designs. He once had a department that had to cut its budget for a new station and three items were on the block – granite kitchen countertops, an automatic ice-melting system for the roof and an exhaust-removal system. The department took out the exhaust-removal system, which Johnson said was a mistake. “Firefighters are exposed to all kinds of toxins and gases on the job,” Johnson said. “They shouldn’t have to put up with it in their stations too.”

Storing the equipment

Fire departments make substantial investments in equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) and it makes sense to take care of it. GearGrid, headquartered in Lake Forest, MN, designs and manufactures open-air, durable steel tubing and wire products for a variety of storage applications. Bob Foht, president of GearGrid, said fire station storage has evolved tremendously in the past 15 years. Firefighters and chiefs now better understand the value of taking care of their gear and equipment, which can represent a significant investment for a community.

For decades, Foht said, PPE was stored in what amounts to wooden boxes or sometimes even school locker systems. Neither allowed gear to dry out and both systems collected the off-gassing of materials collected on the gear – not a good situation for the firefighters.

“Firefighters around the world may call their PPE different names, but they all want it to be dry,” Foht said.

Because there is so much gear and equipment to be stowed – not just the PPE, but items like hoses and SCBA bottles – storage is needed throughout a fire station. Foht said astute architects and designers can integrate storage systems into the design of the fire station and make it an aesthetic element. “They can become a focal point of the design,” Foht said, noting that gear hanging in the apparatus bay is an iconic image of a firehouse. “Given the fact that the storage system is so prominent in the station, they can be designed to be complementary with other elements.”

Foht said fire chiefs know the high cost of the equipment they purchase and the gear issued to firefighters. It just make sense to build in ways to take care of it when they are building new stations.

“Fire chiefs are building 50-year stations,” he said. “They want things they put in it to last just as long. That’s why it’s important to include high-quality, open air storage systems.”

Groves Inc., the maker of Ready Rack, has made a business out of manufacturing and distributing open-air storage and drying rack solutions for more than two decades.

John Groves, founder of the Woodstock, IL-based company, said the business started nearly 30 years ago with a simple hook on the wall to meet the need to get PPE off the floor. From there, the company developed an open-air rack system that has wall-mounted components as well as portable and wheel-mounted storage systems. The systems can be used for turnout gear, hose and any of the myriad other items found in a fire station.

“This is a way to get everything up and off the floor and store it neatly,” said Groves, who added that turnout gear dries better and lasts longer when it is stored in open-air racks. Groves said open-air racks are simple, “not very expensive” to use and install, help maintain order in the station and preserve and protect equipment.

The first “ready rack” system Groves built was constructed 27 years ago for Gary, IL, and is still in service, Groves said as a testimony for the durability of the system. Ready Rack systems are constructed of tubular steel, with wire grid shelves in zinc chromate finishes or virtually any powder coat finish, Groves said. He said fire stations today have started to incorporate turnout gear rooms to isolate potentially contaminated PPE from the rest of the facility and to give a place for the gear to be cleaned and dried. And Ready Racks are good for those uses too. “Things have changed over the years,” he said.


Furnishing the fire station

No fire station is complete without furniture and All A Board has rugged chairs, beds, storage cabinets and wardrobes that will stand up to the use and abuse firefighters can dish out, said Andy Barth, the co-founder of the Richmond, VA, manufacturer. “When it comes to firehouses, twin beds, bunk beds and under-the-bed storage bins and wardrobes are very popular,” he said. As a manufacturer, Barth said, All A Board can custom-make cabinets and wardrobes to fit any height, width and depth. Shelving and hanging units are also popular, he said.

Because station beds are often used by different people, responders often do what is called “hot bunking,” where they strip their own linens and store them for later use, a practice that requires a clean storage place, Barth said. And because firefighters and responders work hard at their jobs, a quality mattress is not only a nicety, but should be a requirement, he said. “They don’t want a cheap mattress when they get back from a call,” Barth said. “Firefighters should have a quality mattress.” He added that vinyl-covered mattresses for easy cleaning and to minimize bed bug infestations should be considered.

When it comes to budgeting for fire stations, unfortunately, furniture is often skimped when financial constraints hit, Barth said, adding that he thinks that is a mistake.

Dave Woods, the owner and founder of Fire Station Outfitters, based in Empire, CA, said recliners and comfortable upholstered furniture are popular in fire stations. His company makes not only recliners, but upholstered love seats and sofas for fire stations. “I have six different-sized recliners to fit all body types,” Woods said, noting that small men and many women find very large recliners cumbersome and difficult to operate. “There are a lot of women in EMS and they like things built for their comfort.”

When fire departments are considering recliners, it is tempting to go to the local discount furniture store and buy something there, a decision its members may come to regret. “They’re just not meant for the kind of use they’ll see at a fire station and they won’t stand up,” Woods said. He added the furniture his company makes has hardwood frames with heavy-machined reclining mechanisms.

Woods said Fire Station Outfitters also carries furniture provided by other vendors as a service to his customers, but recliners are his specialty. “When it comes to comfortable recliners, one size does not fit all,” said Woods, who has been in business since 2008. “My focus has been on customer service. It’s important to make sure responders get what they need.”


Specifying the bay doors

Apparatus bay doors are an important feature of fire stations. They must work quickly, they must be energy efficient and they must look good. Hörmann Flexon is a company based in Leetsdale, PA, that makes a wide variety of high-speed doors for fire stations, according to the company’s marketing director, Alice Permigiani. There are several door designs for fire stations, from solid designs, to ones with windows, to all glass panes, Permigiani said.

“Doors need to be low-maintenance and high speed,” she said, noting that Hörmann Flexon doors open at a rate of 80 inches per second. For vehicles responding to emergencies, door opening speeds are important and, for energy conservation in hot or cold climates, doors that close quickly too are an important feature. Door insulation and “R” values are important as well, she said. Doors also can add a lot to the look of a fire station by design and color, Permigiani said. Doors with lots of windows and glass provide lots of light in the apparatus bay and the building, which may have an aesthetic appeal that appeals to a department or chief, she said. Solid doors offer other benefits and design elements, she added.

“Doors contribute a lot to the façade and function of a building,” Permigiani said. “That’s why it’s important that fire chiefs are involved. They’ll have to live with them a long time.”


Alerting the crews

Station alerting is one of those critical items that sometimes is overlooked when communities are building new fire stations, said Westnet’s marketing director, Kelly McGeorge. “We often get these calls from fire departments who say, ‘We’ve got this beautiful, new fire station, but we forgot the alerting system,’” he said. “When you’re building a new fire station, that’s the time to think about installing a station alerting system…when all the walls are open.”

Westnet, based in Huntington Beach, CA, is the maker of First-In Fire Station Alerting Systems used to create an intelligent and interactive fire station. McGeorge said the company’s station alerting system is an advanced and updated version of the one featured on the 1970s television show “Emergency.” The system alerts firefighters in a station to a call through a master control unit in the station, which is activated by a dispatcher when a call is received. It alerts firefighters and medics to calls, McGeorge said.

Many fire departments are going to an individual dormitory sleeping quarters system when building new stations and the system is so sophisticated that it can alert individual firefighters to calls rather than waking up everyone in the station, McGeorge said. “It’s good where the medics and the firefighters are housed together,” McGeorge said. “Eighty to 85 percent, or more, of the calls these days are for medics, so there’s no reason to wake up the firefighters too and have them experience that adrenaline pump when they don’t need to.”

The number-one cause of firefighter deaths is heart attacks, so there is no need to startle firefighters in the station. Westnet’s system is gentler with red lights instead of white lights at night. Another feature is the system sends the call to an LCD screen for firefighters to instantly see the call information, cutting response times, McGeorge said. The system also works as a public address system, eliminating the need for redundant speakers through the station, she said. Westnet will work with individual stations and firefighters to make sure they get what they need, McGeorge said.

“Unless you’ve pulled up a pair of bunker pants and gotten ready for a response, there’s no way you can know what responders need,” she said, noting that the business, founded by and run by firefighters, installed its first system 19 years ago. “We work with departments large and small to get them what they need.”