By Robert Tutterow
My previous two columns have been about ways to cut fire station operating costs-both existing and new. These are costs that have no direct bearing on service delivery or firefighter safety. As stated in the previous columns, 49 percent of a building’s lifespan costs are the ongoing costs for utilities, maintenance, and replacing furnishings. Items that were covered included materials selection for the exterior and interior of the station. This is a substantial sum of funds that, if properly managed, could be applied to apparatus, personal protective equipment (PPE), equipment, training, and other mission-critical items. In this column, there will be a bit more information on materials selection plus a tool that can be used to manage utility costs.
Minor but Big Payoff
There are minor expense items that have a big payback in a station’s sustainability. These include corner guards for drywall-hopefully “abuse-resistant” drywall. Vinyl-wrapped ceiling tiles or epoxy painted drywall make for long-lasting ceilings. Flooring materials should be of materials that do not require vacuuming or waxing. Stainless steel is the most durable and easy to maintain material for kitchen appliances and cabinet surfaces. Never use particleboard for kitchen cabinets. Commercial-quality cooktops and ovens provide the best return on investment in a station where there is frequent cooking. Use porcelain or ceramic tiles in restrooms and shower areas.
And, now for the aforementioned tool-the building dashboard. Building dashboards are exactly what they sound like. Just as an automobile has a dashboard to inform drivers of what is going on with the vehicle, there is a growing number of buildings that have dashboards. In short, a building dashboard is a Web-based tool that provides real-time information about the building such as electricity or gas use, water use, temperature, humidity, and air quality. The dashboard can be configured to meet the needs of users and their capabilities, and expandability is almost limitless.
The dashboard can be used by management to monitor usage and detect areas of wasted energy. Firefighters can access the dashboard to learn more about energy usage and modify their behavior. If a department has more than one station, reducing energy consumption can become a competition. For example, several college campuses have placed building dashboards in their dormitories. They then have contests among the dorms to see which one can reduce its utility usage by the highest percentage. Students in the winning dorm receive a prize.
The beauty of the dashboard is that it provides data-manageable data. Think for a moment about driving a car without a dashboard. How do you know your speed? How do you know how much fuel is in the tank? How do you know how many miles are on the vehicle? In effect, that’s what the fire service and society have been doing with buildings forever. Today we have the technology to manage a building-specifically a fire station.
Chart the Course
One beauty of the dashboard is its ability to provide graphs that chart utility usage over a period of time. At last year’s Annual F.I.E.R.O. Fire Station Symposium, Keith Pehl with Optima Engineering gave a presentation about building dashboards. He referenced an example of a building with a dashboard that indicated the air-conditioning had started to come on at night when the building was not occupied. This was during the winter months when the outside temperatures were below freezing. An investigation revealed that new information technology equipment had been installed in the building, and the venting system to release the heat was shut down when the building was not occupied. The problem was remedied, and the utility costs for the building returned back to a lower level. Without the building dashboard, the higher electrical costs could have continued for months or years. As Pehl stated, building dashboards must be transparent-that is, everyone using the building must have access to the dashboard. Typically the dashboard is displayed on a monitor in a frequently visited common area of a fire station such as the kitchen. This allows for conversation about the dashboard and the subsequent hidden benefits of dashboards-education!
ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).