Global Perspective on Fire Station Space, Land Use

How much space do you need to build a fire station? Well that depends on whether you are building in lower Manhattan, Peoria, Ariz. or Peoria, Ill. Fire stations are built to fit the site--and as budgets allow.

Whether a one-bay fire station in New York City or a one-bay station in Peoria, Ill., the cost of land, allowable space and funding will likely determine the final building. 

Architect Theodore Galante, The Galante Architecture Studio, Inc., Cambridge, Mass., has designed fire stations for 10 years in well-established cities like Boston and New York City and where space is definitely a premium.  While he has also designed stations for fire departments around Massachusetts and most recently in Davenport, Iowa, Galante has invested time in exploring international cities to find out how they design fire stations with space and budget constraints, but also environmental restrictions.

"It's learning from places that have a greater bit of history than we do and to learn how to be inventive," said Galante.  "There are tiny, single-bay fire stations in the mountains of the Netherlands, many out of wood and plastic to keep the costs effective and all the way up to 15-bay stations in Germany and in Mexico city."

Galante is part of the Firehouse Station Design Conference to be held Wednesday, July 16, at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore.  His presentation, "The Coolest Fire Stations on Earth" will focus on fire stations from around the world and the challenges facing fire departments worldwide in building functional, efficient and budget-conscious fire stations.

"There's a beautiful fire station in Santo Teirco, Portugal and another in Taiwan. Cutting edge of what we can think about; I don't know if 'practical' is the right word, but I think yes. There's a building where they don't have any land left. There's no land for public safety facilities and departments are ostracized between the river and highway and the apparatus takes up the land."

Galante believes there is much U.S. fire departments can learn from seeing how other countries have managed and solved problems with building and maintaining fire facilities. "I think there's an effort throughout the world for that to be the case. Sustainability is a big internationally and they are talking about it," he said.

Galante explained that there is a fire station in Italy that is carved into the side of a mountain with precious farmland surrounding all around. Instead of tearing up a vineyard, they carved into the side of the mountain so as not to destroy any land and are using the thermal mass of the mountain to heat the fire station.

"Many, many people are trying to be sustainable and there are real innovative lessons to be learned that can be applied here," Galante offered.  "There many inventive ideas out there and they can inform us and that we can accept completely."

Are you open to some new ideas? It can't hurt to look and listen.

JANET WILMOTH grew up in a family of firefighters in a suburb of Chicago. Wilmoth, owner of Wilmoth Associates, worked with Fire Chief magazine for 27 years until it closed in 2013. She is currently a Project Director for Firehouse/Cygnus. Wilmoth currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Fire Emergency Manufacturers & Services Association and lives in Lisle, IL.