Petrillo, The Fire Station, The Station Articles

Kitchens: Designed To Be “Heart” of the Fire Station

Issue 8 and Volume 21.

Kitchens: Designed To Be “Heart” of the Fire Station

The kitchen often serves as the heart of a fire station, a place where firefighters might congregate for a meal or after a call to grab some additional nourishment or hydration.

The design of firehouse kitchens varies around the country, from small, utilitarian kitchens to layouts that emulate well-appointed residential kitchens to areas that rival commercial kitchen designs.

1 The Phoenix Fire Department uses all stainless steel in its fire station kitchens, as is shown in this kitchen in Station 50.
1 The Phoenix Fire Department uses all stainless steel in its fire station kitchens, as is shown in this kitchen in Station 50.

Role of the Kitchen

Ken Newell, principal in Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects, observes that as the kitchen is the heart of a personal home, similarly firehouse kitchens serve the same role. “As architects, we consider the kitchen the heart of the firehouse, one of the most important spaces in the building,” Newell says. “When designing a new firehouse, we spend as much time talking about kitchens as any other area in the station and find a wide range of what firefighters consider important in a kitchen, depending on the type of department, from small volunteer fire companies to large career departments.”

2 Station 21 in the Phoenix Fire Department has a six-burner gas range with a single oven, all stainless steel counters and cabinetry, and polished concrete floor.
2 Station 21 in the Phoenix Fire Department has a six-burner gas range with a single oven, all stainless steel counters and cabinetry, and polished concrete floor.

Newell points out that the kitchen often becomes the social activity area in a fire station, followed by the day room and other firehouse spaces. “Most of the interaction among firefighters happens in the kitchen, especially now with individual sleeping rooms in many departments,” he says. “Most fire departments want their kitchens open to their day rooms to make it a free-flowing space.”

Jim Zwerg, architect and facilities manager for the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department, says Phoenix firehouses don’t have open dorms anymore, so the main hangout for firefighters is the kitchen and dining area of the station. “At some of our stations, we’ve removed walls to make the kitchen, dining area, and day room all one open area because that’s where the socializing happens throughout the day,” Zwerg points out. “So, the kitchen and dining spaces are a primary point of interest in firehouse design.”

3 A heavy-duty pot rack, such as this one in a Phoenix Fire Department station kitchen, is a practical addition to hold an assortment of pots, pans, and skillets. [Photos 1-3 courtesy of Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department.]
3 A heavy-duty pot rack, such as this one in a Phoenix Fire Department station kitchen, is a practical addition to hold an assortment of pots, pans, and skillets. [Photos 1-3 courtesy of Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department.]

Design Considerations

Zwerg adds that the location of the kitchen is important. “You want to have the kitchen and dining area in close proximity to the apparatus bays,” he says, “and also near the front door in case someone comes to the station in need of help. Also, you want to have an exterior door to a patio with a barbecue and an open-able window to pass food through on trays.”

Bob Mitchell, principal at Mitchell Associates Architects, says that firehouse kitchen design is usually related to the events the fire department does with its kitchen. “We see a dividing line for kitchens between volunteer and career fire departments,” Mitchell says. “Typically, volunteer firefighters are not eating in their kitchen but rather are using it to prepare food for events. Career department use of a kitchen is just the opposite. Then there are blended departments of career and volunteer firefighters, which is where the issue gets more complicated.”

4 The Beukendaal (NY) Volunteer Fire Department had Mitchell Associates Architects design this kitchen, which services adjacent meeting and member rooms.
4 The Beukendaal (NY) Volunteer Fire Department had Mitchell Associates Architects design this kitchen, which services adjacent meeting and member rooms.

Mitchell noted his firm is designing a firehouse for the Peekskill (NY) Fire Department, which is blended. “We originally designed two kitchens and two day rooms,” he says, “but the city government said it only wanted a single kitchen, so we redesigned the station so there will be a day room on each side of one kitchen.”

Zwerg notes that some jurisdictions interpret building codes to mean that fire station kitchens must be considered commercial kitchens instead of less costly residential kitchens. “When a municipality says a firehouse kitchen is ‘commercial use,’ that means the kitchen has to have huge exhaust fans and a fire suppression system,” he says. “Having to put in a commercial kitchen can mean three or four times the cost of a residential kitchen.”

5 This kitchen, for the Rensselaer (NY) Fire Department, a career agency, was designed by Mitchell Associates Architects for the department’s North End station.
5 This kitchen, for the Rensselaer (NY) Fire Department, a career agency, was designed by Mitchell Associates Architects for the department’s North End station.

Kitchen Fixtures

The Phoenix Fire Department uses all stainless steel for cabinets, countertops, and islands, Zwerg notes, pointing to the ruggedness and durability of stainless steel, as well as its ease of cleaning.

The career department has 58 stations, typically with 12 beds per station, Zwerg says, running from a single-engine-company station to multiple-unit stations with proportionally larger kitchens and dorms. “We might end up with six refrigerators in the kitchen for a station that has five bays and a battalion chief,” he says. “We mainly use residential refrigerators and allocate them as one per shift per kitchen but have some stations with commercial fridges in them.”

6 The Holden (MA) Fire Department, a career department, had this open-concept kitchen and day room jointly designed by Mitchell Associates Architects and Kaestle Boos Associates.(Photos 4-6 courtesy of Mitchell Associates Architects
6 The Holden (MA) Fire Department, a career department, had this open-concept kitchen and day room jointly designed by Mitchell Associates Architects and Kaestle Boos Associates.(Photos 4-6 courtesy of Mitchell Associates Architects.)

The Phoenix Fire Department uses natural gas for its ranges and ovens at most of its stations, and where natural gas isn’t available, it uses propane. The types of ranges installed in stations, Zwerg says, vary: a 36-inch-wide model with six burners and one oven, a 48-inch-wide range with six burners and a larger oven, and a 60-inch-wide range with eight burners and two large ovens.

Newell says he always puts in an emergency shutoff linked to all gas-operated appliances in a kitchen. “It’s a mushroom-shaped red button that can shut down everything when firefighters go out on a call,” he says. “We also can do the same with an all-electric kitchen where the button trips a master circuit breaker.”

On the issue of a commercial vs. residential kitchen designation, Newell notes that if the kitchen is designated as commercial, it must have separate hand-washing, food preparation, and cleanup sinks. “Also, if there’s a commercial dishwasher in the kitchen, it will require a Type 3 hood.”

7 The Biltmore Forest (NC) Skyland Fire & Rescue No. 4 had Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects design this open-design kitchen and day room with solid wood cabinetry, stainless steel sinks and appliances, and tile flooring.
7 The Biltmore Forest (NC) Skyland Fire & Rescue No. 4 had Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects design this open-design kitchen and day room with solid wood cabinetry, stainless steel sinks and appliances, and tile flooring.

Newell also recommends using stainless steel in firehouse kitchens. “Plastic laminate countertops get ripped to shreds easily,” he says. “We recommend stainless steel or other solid surfaces, but especially stainless steel because it lasts forever.”

Mitchell says that he designed a kitchen for the fire-rescue station at Otis Air Force Base in Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts, that uses stainless steel for all of its surfaces-countertops, tables, sinks, cabinets, stoves, and refrigerators. “And for the Foxborough (MA) Fire Department kitchen, a career department, we used diamond plate on some cabinets, and the firefighters had a large dining table made with a bowling-alley-type surface that had the department’s seal inlaid.”

Lighting, Ventilation, and Flooring

Zwerg points out that lighting and ventilation are important issues that shouldn’t be overlooked in kitchen design. “You don’t want stagnant air or oxygen burning off near the stoves,” he says, “so we went with pilotless ignition on our ranges. It’s also important to have good natural light, so we have gone to all LED lighting because of the white nature of the light, which has reduced injuries.”

Newell agrees on the importance of kitchen lighting. “You don’t want it lit up like a gym,” he observes, “but you want a warm, comfortable feeling with the ability to ramp up the lighting when needed. And, supplemental air movement is important too, which is why we commonly put ceiling fans in station kitchens, which heat up pretty fast.”

8 Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects designed a large open-design kitchen for the Casper (WY) Fire & EMS Station 3.
8 Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects designed a large open-design kitchen for the Casper (WY) Fire & EMS Station 3.

Newell says that when considering floor materials, departments should make sure they will last. “Vinyl composition tile is the cheapest way, but it needs a lot of maintenance,” he points out. “We recommend either stained or polished concrete surfaces; terrazzo; or even rubberized floors, which are easy to maintain but take a lot of abuse. And, polished concrete doesn’t have to be stripped or waxed.”

For kitchen floors, the Phoenix Fire Department uses honed concrete floors. “There’s no waxy sealer on the floors, and you can spill anything you want on them,” Zwerg notes. “It doesn’t stain and cleans up with soap and water.” And for practicality in a firehouse kitchen, most firefighters like pot racks instead of cabinets, he adds, “so make sure the pot rack is heavy duty to handle all the skillets and pots they’ll hang on it.”

9 Outdoor eating areas are considered important elements in fire station kitchen design. Shown is the patio and grilling area adjacent to the firehouse kitchen at the Lewisville (NC) West Bend Station No. 13. (Photos 7-9 courtesy of Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects
9 Outdoor eating areas are considered important elements in fire station kitchen design. Shown is the patio and grilling area adjacent to the firehouse kitchen at the Lewisville (NC) West Bend Station No. 13. (Photos 7-9 courtesy of Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects.)

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.

F.I.E.R.O. Fire Station Design Award Winner