What’s in Your New Fire Station Blueprints?

Jan. 12, 2024
Janet Wilmoth previews the future of fire station design and tells firefighters to take advantage of the technology being provided to them.

Biometrics, artificial intelligence and net-zero energy. Are each of these topics part of the discussions for your new fire station? Expecting a new fire station to last 40, 50, or even (as we’ve heard) 75 years, then it’s time to become familiar with what these topics have to do with your fire station.

We’ve seen fire stations evolve from a “big garage for fire trucks” to an “emergency operation station.” Most fire departments today are responding to a range of responses that are complicated and riskier because of hazardous chemicals, electric vehicles, active shooters, drugs, contagious diseases, and even litigation.

We’re in the future.


Introducing next generation

Since 2006, architects, specialized in designing fire stations, introduced significant changes to fire station designs to improve fire department operations. After 18 years of fire station conferences and articles, the architects we worked with are beginning to retire. Being the dedicated professionals they are, they have developed the next generation of architects who specialize not only in fire station designs but encompass safety and efficiency for public safety agencies. This generation is focused on advanced concepts that were beyond imagination at the earlier fire station conferences.

Every year, the Station Design Conference includes the basics of designing a fire station, but also the latest research and trends to enable fire departments to serve their community and protect their personnel for years ahead.

One new presentation at the 2024 Station Design Conference will be the “Top Trends in Fire Station Design,” a fast-moving presentation by a group of young architects detailing the up-and-coming issues that your fire/EMS station will need to address.

According to moderator, Craig Carter, BKV Group, the panel will share how to learn about critical design issues that will change tomorrow’s fire service and ways to address each issue. Several presenters from different firms/regions will produce a consensus list of issues and take advantage of each firm’s portfolio to communicate appropriate design responses.


Moving into the future

Another conference resource for fire stations is “Station of the Future Year 2055,” a presentation by Patrick Stone and Dennis Ross, H2M architects + engineers. The duo will share some of the in-depth research their firm did on the new frontiers in technology and its use in emergency services and facility designs.

Based on their research, H2M also produced a booklet with a look at the future of fire stations. Each page focuses on a room or area in a fire station and compares today’s room to upcoming technology. Among these elements is the use of biometrics, artificial intelligence (AI), and advanced electric charging systems. Of note is the inclusion to address climate change in fire stations through the use of emergency backup power generators fueled by renewable energy sources, i.e., electric, hydrogen, etc.

Advanced AI communication systems are predicted to lead responders from the living areas to the bays, to the apparatus cab, and on scene. AI will also be able to assess your current state of health and conditioning to develop a proper workout or suggestions for revisions.

Biometric measuring devices will read blood pressure, skin temperature and cleanliness, pulse rate, level of anxiety, etc. And sensors to detect carcinogens in room air and adjust the intensity of air pressure differential. (The iPhone was first introduced in 2007 and look where it is today.)

“Net-zero energy” in fire stations has been heard frequently in the past several years, but it’s time to implement it in your planning and designs. According to Mike Scott and Dayna Lake, RRM Design Group, a net-zero energy fire station involves not only achieving carbon neutrality in building design, but includes interior and exterior finishes, and layouts to achieve net-zero energy levels. Scott and Lake will present “The Net-Zero Fire Station: The Future is Here” at this year’s Station Design Conference and share an interactive video tour of the new Cuyama fire station in Santa Barbara County, CA.


Take advantage of the technology provided

With all the progress and investment in fire station designs for improved operations, safety, and the physical and mental health of firefighters, we need to bring up a concern about the Hot Zone design concept in fire stations.

Since 2014, we’ve seen new fire stations incorporate the Hot Zone design concept. A majority of the fire stations entered in the 2023 Station Design Awards included a decontamination layout in their floor plans. The red or hot zone on arrival at the station and decontamination procedures through the yellow transition to the green living area.

However, Firehouse Editor-in-Chief Peter Matthews, in his January editorial, wrote that some firefighters are not following the zone-decontamination procedures incorporated into their stations. Matthews related talking with a firefighter who said the topic of cancer has been “beaten into us,” adding that the members of his crew have ignored various messages and bulletins that were sent their way.

Matthews wrote, “This was disheartening, particularly with their loss of several active and retired firefighters to cancers both job-related and not.” The firefighter also stated conversations about firefighter cancer have gained momentum in the department and steps taken, but the “messages about cancer have been exhausted.”

Seriously? The individual is responsible for him or herself to follow the preventive procedures established, but after investing millions of dollars in a fire station to reduce carcinogen exposure, who is responsible for seeing the procedures are followed if the individuals don’t? An officer? Safety officer? Or the fire chief? It’s kind of like seatbelts or breathing apparatus; use it or you accept the health risks.

We are passionate about safety and the health of firefighters when designing new and renovated fire stations. Every department is investing money in the layout and equipment to try and protect personnel, particularly to reduce cancer-causing carcinogens in their stations.

Designers are doing their part by including these new “frontiers” in technology as they evolve. Now it is up to you as to how these advances will be implemented in your department.

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!