When first responders think about NFPA standards, it’s often focused on fireground operations or safety and apparatus policies, but two architects are focused on the NFPA standards that need to be implemented into fire station design.
Jennifer Bettiol and Ray Holliday, from BRW Architects, discussed how NFPA standards 1500, 1710, 1720 and 1851 are critical to the layout and construction of new fire stations to keep firefighters healthy when they are not responding to calls.
“One of the things we came to understand in fire station design is that we can help them achieve these goals when we look at the standards and requirements when we begin to design the station,” Bettiol said.
NFPA 1500 is the Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness Program and it impacts fire station design in areas including cancer prevention, firefighter fitness and creating spaces where firefighters can unwind from the stresses of the job.
Cancer is a hot topic that doesn't just focus on the fireground, but involves aspects of fire station design and use.
Bettiol said new fire stations include airlocks—the areas between the living space and apparatus bay—where positive-pressure airflow or an air curtain can help remove contaminants in the bays from living spaces.
Cardiac events continue to be the leading cause of firefighter deaths and efforts are being made to reduce the strain on the heart during nighttime emergencies.
Since departments are required to have to have fitness programs, many department opt for a physical fitness space.
Designs need to include safety features, such as windows to the workout area to assure firefighters are safe. Indoor and outdoor fitness areas have been used when space is limited, but they need to have easy access to the apparatus bays.
Training areas allow crews to learn about the latest safety and health programs, so ample space that provides a functional learning space is part of this standard.
If hands-on training areas are built into the station's layout, considerations need to include decontamination of equipment and gear used before members return it to service or re-enter the living spaces.
Allowing firefighters to unwind and communicate in the station can help lower stress levels. Designs can include common spaces for crews to talk and debrief, comfortable seating and areas to watch television or read are common practices.
The storage of PPE needs to be done in areas away from the sun, and with little fluorescent lighting. The space, Bettiol said, needs to have ventilation to remove particulates from the area and needs to be away from the living area.
Bettiol reminded attendees about standard 126.96.36.199, which requires the installation of carbon monoxide and smoke detectors throughout the facility. While it should be on the minds of all responders, sometimes simple items such as these can be overlooked.
The standard that cover the maintenance and care of firefighter PPE is NFPA 1851 and it requires departments to have separate laundry facilities for contaminated PPE and uniforms and station clothing, towels and bedding.
Laundry areas continue to evolve and are being separated where personal belongings can be cleaned in the living areas where PPE doesn’t enter the living space and is laundered near the apparatus bay. Waste water removal and air flow need to be considered when designed.
NFPA 1710, 1720
NFPA 1710 and 1720 are the standards for operations of career fire departments (NFPA 1710) and volunteer departments (1720).
“While we can’t control what happens outside the station, what we can do is translate the design into how fast we can get them out of the station,” Bettiol said.
Designs can have a major impact on turnout times for career departments, including access from the second floor to the first-floor apparatus bay and from first-floor living spaces.
Bettiol said different clients may require different turnout times, including a department where ambulances must leave the station in 45 seconds, while fire apparatus have additional time to allow crews to get dressed before boarding the apparatus.
"When we consider getting from Point A to B, it’s at a walk, not a run," Bettiol said. "We need to understand what actions are going on in certain areas, such as putting things away in the kitchen that can add time to their response."
The easiest way to decrease response time, Bettiol said, is to give firefighters “direct access without bends or turns in hallways. It’ll slow you down and create hazards.” Door swings need to be designed so that firefighters will not open a door into another firefighter’s path of travel.
Poles can reduce response times from an upper level by 50 percent or more, Bettiol said, but safety features need to be included on both levels to prevent falls and hard landings. The location and design need to be discussed because the openings create airflow and fire spread areas.
As volunteer fire stations transition to around-the-clock staffing, Bettiol said departments need to be honest as they plan living spaces that will be used more frequently.
Other areas of consideration
The 2015 edition of the International Building Code states that pubic facilities that are in zones where winds can reach 250 mph are required to have storm shelters, and this includes fire and police stations.
NFPA 13 is the standard for fire sprinkler installations and fire flows and designs need to be looked at for the various spaces around the station.
ISO ratings also include fire station features, including turnout time, station locations and accessibility.
Bettiol reminded attendees that the standards and requirements don't just affect the fireground, but also the facilities where firefighters live and train. Those standards, when applied properly, can help with the firefighter's overall mission to protect the community and themselves.