Fire Station Design: An Introduction

For many fire departments, building a fire station is a once in a lifetime event. A part of my consulting practice involves helping people to arrive at some logical conclusions as regards what they should consider building.

"For the average citizen, the first image that comes to mind when the fire service is mentioned may well be the doors to a fire station opening and one or more vehicles emerging to speed off dramatically to the scene of a fire" (Bryan and Picard, 1979, p. 500).

I would suggest to you that this popular belief is not without merit. When fire stations and properly located and built, the public will often see their service delivery dollars in action. Where stations are built and how well they are designed can have long term consequences for the community.

"Nearly every response begins at the station, making it the critical first step in any incident" (Buckman, 2006, p. 237). Bryan and Picard (1979) suggest that a station be built with an anticipated operational life of at least 50 years. In this way, citizens can begin to understand that the money spent on a structure today will have its actual cost amortized over a number of decades. Given the increasing costs of new construction, this is really important point which must be explained to a public which is somewhat reluctant to spend the necessary funds for a new building.

Rare indeed is the fire department which has everything it wishes in the way of emergency response facilities. "Outdated, misallocated, and poorly conceived structures are a well-known topic of discussion in firematic circles – but although needs may be blatantly apparent, action plans are not. Most often, the result is paralysis, or worse yet, an obsolete 'new' building" (Buckman, 2006, p. 237). My job as a consultant is to help my clients avoid this problem.

Please bear in mind that I am not an architect. However, I am a guy who has operated out of a great many stations and visited countless others around the country. The design, funding, and building of a new fire station within one's community can be a daunting task. At the very least it is a tremendous undertaking.

I share this with all of you. This is not an alien concept for me, as my fire district in New Jersey is currently in the midst of a project like this right now in my hometown. As chairman of our Board of Fire Commissioners, I have been at the center of this for the past three years. It is a difficult task.

It is for this reason, that I am share your hopes, dreams, and concerns as regards the need for creating a fire station that will meet both the immediate and long-term needs of you community. I feel that it is important to understand the reasoning behind the need for a new fire station. Given the difficulty in acquiring land and the tremendous costs involved, it is critical to be sure that what you build is really what you need. I would suppose that is one of the primary reasons for your board retaining the services of my firm.

I would like to stress that in my opinion, the most valuable resources in any fire department are the people who staff its agencies and equipment. Yet no matter how well staffed the fire department or how competent the people, members cannot do their jobs without the necessary physical resources.

Let me now state that a fire department uses three types of physical resources in the delivery of their critical protective services: facilities (the real estate, including land, building, and other improvements), apparatus, and equipment and supplies. These resources make it possible for a fire department to work toward its goals.
It is my intention to dig deeper into this important logistical area over the next few days. Like I stated at the beginning of this visit with you, most fire departments do not build a station that often. Because of that, I am offering a bit of guidance to assist those of you who are thinking about building a new fire and emergency services station.