With aging fire stations everywhere, many departments are embarking on an unfamiliar process with little understanding of where to begin or how to determine how to house their department’s new, more modern needs and equipment. Most departments know the building must be more than a garage with offices and a restroom, but need guidance on how best to support first responder health and safety while achieving their goals on a budget that suits their community’s means. Consulting with an architect early in the process can help ease the process and help identify the must-haves from the wish list, resulting in a cohesive approach to upgrading or replacing your aging fire station and ultimately gaining community support.
A fire station building is more than just a place to house the apparatus. It is one of the tools first responders use to perform their work. As a tool, the building protects the lives of firefighters and other workers by facilitating the decontamination of equipment and personnel, supports gender equality, and meets the spatial requirements for trends and innovations of equipment used for public safety.
With these purposes in mind, essential questions are “How much space is required in the building?” and “What size site does the building require?” With many smaller community fire stations exceeding 50 years of service and most located on small sites with little or no room to expand, answering these questions requires creative thinking to determine the best solution.
We approach public safety design with detailed programming discussions to help us and the department understand the space required for their department to support its mission. This process determines the individual spaces and overall size needs of the building. Site programming is equally important, especially understanding how a department operates when an event occurs, particularly for volunteer, on-call departments. Space required for parking, safe vehicular movement, public and private access to the site and building, and building footprint determine the size of the site needed for the project.
In municipal projects, we often see the initial building program, higher-than-expected cost estimates, or site constraints that require rethinking and reducing the size of the building. To avoid this unfortunate scenario, we approach the start of a project with ingenuity and creative thinking to balance building requirements, available site area, and desired project budget goals. Introducing multipurpose and flexible spaces and options for future expansion can reduce building footprint and cost and still result in a well-functioning facility. Additionally, when designed appropriately, multipurpose and flexible spaces don’t require sacrificing functionality and have the additional benefit of demonstrating restraint to taxpayers.