The Fire Station, The Station Articles

Do You Really Need A Drive-Through Station? Part 2

By Don Collins

Do You Really Need A Drive-Through Station? Part 1

Part 1 discussed the pros and cons of drive-through stations. Part 2 discusses back-in station pros and cons.

What are some of the pro and con issues, and how do you make a decision on drive-through or nondrive-through when you may have to live with your choice for the life of the station?

Back-In Pros
The lot size requirement for a back-in station is smaller. The smaller surface area for apparatus maneuvering translates into less storm water detention to deal with to meet standards.

Every time the rig is backed into the fire station the driver gains experience in backing the apparatus. It is far better to have a driver gain experience backing into a station than to have a driver be required to back up an apparatus under stress on the fireground with little previous backing experience.

Rear-view and even side-view cameras are available for fire apparatus to aid in preventing backing accidents. They cost less than $3,000 installed. Contrast the cost of a camera on the apparatus to the cost of a single bay door, which can be anywhere between $8,000 and $30,000 per door. And if you have a backup camera on your apparatus, it goes with you wherever you may take the rig. For the cost of a set of rear doors you can retrofit a number of older apparatus in the fleet.

Exhaust hookup is easier. The hose will be hanging just inside the door. Just be sure the bay door is at least 14 feet wide. This width should give about three feet between the apparatus and the door edge.

Only two exterior hose bibs are required for rinsing hoses.

The concrete of the apron and apparatus floor can be easily painted, scored, or tinted to provide backing guidelines. Just make sure the backing lines are space at least five feet from the stall centerline. Otherwise, they will be obscured by the apparatus.

If you are in an area where snow and ice makes it desirable to thaw the apron, you only have one apron to heat. In areas where snow and ice or not a winter-time constant, you only have one apron to blow or shovel.

Performing routine apparatus daily checks and some service on the front apron is a public relations benefit. It helps the public understand that firefighters do a lot more that sleep, watch television, shoot pool, or play checkers!

Finally, the best fire stations direct the flow from the crew areas to the back of the station so firefighters headed to their seat position to not cross in front of an apparatus. This movement is easier to design into a station if the station is not a drive-through.

Back In Cons
Bollards must be placed near the edge of each bay door opening to prevent the apparatus from scraping the door tracks if the doors are overhead types, from striking the door if the doors are bi-folds, or striking a support column. With a rear-view backup, camera this should be a problem of the past.

If the lighting on the exterior of the station is inappropriate, it can be a “blinding” element in the rear-view mirrors. Always use apron lights that wash surfaces while covering horizontal light emissions.

The apron must be big enough to allow apparatus to turn in from the street and do all maneuvering necessary to back the apparatus into the station without having personnel in the street. This is desirable but not always possible in densely constructed cities.

Back-in stations will impede sidewalk traffic in front of the station more often.

You may have other pro and con thoughts for drive-through and nondrive-through stations. If so, I would love to hear your thoughts on the subjects.

Some folks get real passionate about one or the other options. My advice is to stay calm and have your design team consider both options and before you buy a site for that new station, if you can.

DON COLLINS is a professor emeritus in architecture, a 35-year veteran of the fire service, and a fire station programming and design consultant to fire departments and architects. He has been a speaker at each F.I.E.R.O. Fire Station Design Symposium since its inception. He serves as the organizing judge for the annual F.I.E.R.O. Fire Station Design Award Program.