Petrillo, The Fire Station, The Station Articles

Building Training Props into a Fire Station

Issue 5 and Volume 22.

By Alan M. Petrillo

Departments fortunate enough to build new fire stations are turning to their architects and asking for various types of training props to be built into the stations.

The kinds of props being built into stations vary but range from self rescue, rappelling, and laddering options to confined space operations training to self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) mazes.

1 A Deerfield Township (OH) Fire Rescue Department firefighter works a bailout training exercise from the stair tower training prop in Station 57 that was designed by KZF Design. [Photos 1-4 courtesy of the Deerfield (OH) Township Fire Rescue Department.]
1 A Deerfield Township (OH) Fire Rescue Department firefighter works a bailout training exercise from the stair tower training prop in Station 57 that was designed by KZF Design. [Photos 1-4 courtesy of the Deerfield (OH) Township Fire Rescue Department.]

Mezzanines and Hose Towers

Mark Shoemaker, director of public facilities for KZF Design, says the simplest training props that can be built into new fire stations, often using mezzanine areas, include props for rappelling, bailout training, laddering, and confined space manholes. If a mezzanine isn’t an option in a station, Shoemaker suggests that training props can be built into a stair tower inside a hose tower.

2 Station 57, at the Deerfield Township (OH) Fire Rescue Department, designed by KZF Design, has a bailout training window on the first floor to allow safe basic training before moving to a higher exterior window
2 Station 57, at the Deerfield Township (OH) Fire Rescue Department, designed by KZF Design, has a bailout training window on the first floor to allow safe basic training before moving to a higher exterior window.

“You could use the tower for rappelling, self rescue, hose advancement drills, laddering training, and might even incorporate a dry standpipe into the tower where you could attach a hose and actually flow water,” Shoemaker says. “However, you would need good drainage at the bottom of the tower and either galvanized or stainless steel in the stairway structure.”

Often, tool, decon, and compressor rooms are arranged along one wall of the apparatus bays. “There’s usually a mezzanine above them for storage, even a walled mezzanine that can have door and window openings to practice entry techniques, bailout drills, ladder placements, and rescue,” Ken Newell, principal in Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects, says. “With a mezzanine about 12 feet above the apparatus room floor, we’ll put anchor points up there so firefighters can do Stokes basket training.”

3 This confined space rescue prop setup is located on the first-floor training space below the mezzanine in Station 57 at the Deerfield Township (OH) Fire Rescue Department. The prop is shown set in place for training exercises and is stored when not in use.
3 This confined space rescue prop setup is located on the first-floor training space below the mezzanine in Station 57 at the Deerfield Township (OH) Fire Rescue Department. The prop is shown set in place for training exercises and is stored when not in use.

Newell adds that if there is a lot of room on the mezzanine, his company has put in rolling wall tracks where plywood panels can be hung to create movable partition walls to simulate rescue scenarios. “Instead of plywood, you can put wallboard over the studs on the tracks that can then be breached by your entry team,” he says.

SCBA mazes generally are put on mezzanines, Newell says, where tunnels with holes and rebar penetrating them are used to train for SCBA confidence. “They usually are in a triangular shape, made out of 2x4s and plywood,” he says, “and sometimes are less rigid panels to allow for different configurations instead of one static prop.”

4 A tripod is set over a manhole opening on the mezzanine level adjacent to the training stair in Station 57 at the Deerfield Township (OH) Fire Rescue Department. While some confined space openings use removable steel plates or bar grates with the ability to be configured to allow a variety of size and shape openings, this station uses a simple sewer manhole cover
4 A tripod is set over a manhole opening on the mezzanine level adjacent to the training stair in Station 57 at the Deerfield Township (OH) Fire Rescue Department. While some confined space openings use removable steel plates or bar grates with the ability to be configured to allow a variety of size and shape openings, this station uses a simple sewer manhole cover.

Shoemaker points out that the cost of some basic training prop features runs between $10,000 and $20,000 to build into a station that typically runs $3 million to $4 million. “We did a study a few years back on the premium cost to incorporate training props in stations,” he says, “and found it ranged from one to three percent, but the payback was less than five years.”

Paul Mickelberg, president of WSM Architects, says his company designed training props into the hose drying tower at the Tucson (AZ) Fire Department’s Station 22, a large technical rescue firehouse. “The hose tower had a ladder up to the hose stanchions and then another ladder to a covered roof deck,” Mickelberg says. “From that roof, where there are anchor points, firefighters do rappelling and rope work. And on the outside of the tower’s masonry wall, they train with ground ladders.”

5 East Putnam (NY) Fire Department firefighters practice a Stokes rescue from a training prop built into their station designed by Mitchell Associates Architects. (Photos 5-7 courtesy of Mitchell Associates Architects.)
5 East Putnam (NY) Fire Department firefighters practice a Stokes rescue from a training prop built into their station designed by Mitchell Associates Architects. (Photos 5-7 courtesy of Mitchell Associates Architects.)

J. Lynn Reda, principal at Hughes Group Architects, says training props are frequently requested for new stations she’s designing. “When a client says they want a hose tower, we immediately ask about training props because it means a larger footprint,” Reda says. “A traditional hose tower can be an 8- by 8-foot square with a ladder, but a larger one needs stairs spread out with a gap in between. The interior needs to be as durable as possible, exposed and painted concrete block, galvanized metal if you plan on discharging water, and otherwise painted steel. And, the light fixtures should have gasket seals and be rated for a wet area, and the floor needs a drain.”

Bob Mitchell, principal in Mitchell Associates Architects, says he talks about training props in stations early in the design process. “We will pull up images of training features we’ve done and talk with the fire department members about how they can be incorporated in their building,” Mitchell says. “Generally, they are pretty keen on the ideas.”

6 Holden (MA) Fire Department firefighters practice ladder work on the interior training prop in their station designed by Mitchell Associates Architects and Kaestle Boos Associates.
6 Holden (MA) Fire Department firefighters practice ladder work on the interior training prop in their station designed by Mitchell Associates Architects and Kaestle Boos Associates.

Mitchell agrees that a mezzanine is a prime area for staging training props. “You could have a confined space opening or manhole in the mezzanine floor that can also be used for rappelling and self rescue training,” he says. “When we first designed a hole in the floor, we used hinged square hatches but got feedback from firefighters that they don’t encounter hatches like that, and we changed over to using a cast iron manhole and grating.”

Stairwell Uses

7 A Holden (MA) firefighter executes a rappel in the department’s stair tower training area designed by Mitchell Associates Architects and Kaestle Boos Associates
7 A Holden (MA) firefighter executes a rappel in the department’s stair tower training area designed by Mitchell Associates Architects and Kaestle Boos Associates.

Newell says training props are popular with both volunteer and paid fire departments but especially with paid departments because training can occur in-station instead of taking a crew out of service and traveling to an outside training location all on the clock. “If they can do training at the fire station, the same people and equipment being trained are there to answer alarms,” Newell says.

Newell thinks stairwells are a prime location for training props. “With a scissors-style stair, if they are spread apart, you can get a vertical shaft space that can be used for ladder or rope training if you have anchor points at the top,” Newell points out. “If you enclose the stair shaft with walls, you can have openings at multiple stair landings to simulate elevator shaft openings. Another part of the shaft might have large plastic pipe run through it with openings at multiple locations to practice confined space rescue.”

8 WSM Architects designed training props into the hose drying tower at Tucson (AZ) Fire Department’s Station 22, including anchor points for rappelling off the tower’s covered roof. (Photos 8 and 9 courtesy of WSM Architects.)
8 WSM Architects designed training props into the hose drying tower at Tucson (AZ) Fire Department’s Station 22, including anchor points for rappelling off the tower’s covered roof. (Photos 8 and 9 courtesy of WSM Architects.)

Mickelberg says he designed training props into the Shakopee (MN) Fire Department station where a stair tower matches the building’s three stories. “There are landings every 10 feet or so, galvanized metal and gratings on the landings, and a smoke house at the top,” he notes. “The stair tower continues to a roof fitted out with anchor points for rope work. There’s a dry standpipe in the corner of the stair tower, and artificial smoke can be used at the bottom for ventilation practice at the top.”

Other Possibilities

9 The Shakopee (MN) Fire Department had a station with a stair tower designed by WSM Architects that is three stories high with gratings on the landings and a smoke house on the top
9 The Shakopee (MN) Fire Department had a station with a stair tower designed by WSM Architects that is three stories high with gratings on the landings and a smoke house on the top.

Reda says that one station she designed had several hundred anchor points throughout the building. “They used the whole station as a training prop,” she observes. “It was a three-story station with a parking garage below.” But typically, stations have fewer anchor points, she adds. “Often you have 20 feet of clear space in the apparatus bays, so you can have anchor points on each side that allow practice in a rope traverse. If you’re coming off a mezzanine, you need a removable railing for rope work and have to coordinate with the design and placement of light fixtures, cord reels, and exhaust mechanisms.”

If a department is going to be doing training on its new station roof, structural engineers need to know beforehand. They also will want to know if the department plans on throwing ground ladders against the building or to windowsills. “You want to have those areas made with an appropriate material,” Reda says. “We have added diamond plate and steel in areas that would get a lot of ladder training. When training goes to windows, we often put a steel bar under the window so the ladders won’t damage the sill or the brick face of a building.”

10 Hughes Group Architects designed this stair tower with expanded space in the center to allow for rope rescue, rappelling, and other types of training. (Photos 10 and 11 courtesy of Hughes Group Architects.)
10 Hughes Group Architects designed this stair tower with expanded space in the center to allow for rope rescue, rappelling, and other types of training. (Photos 10 and 11 courtesy of Hughes Group Architects.)

Reda recommends that if a department chooses to have window openings for training that they be oversized. “You want to make them a larger size and have the firefighters build out different types of windows to be inserted into the larger opening,” she says. “It makes it feasible to break out glass or use hand tools to breach the opening, which then can be easily replaced.” Reda estimates that half of the new stations she designs incorporate some type of training props in them.

Newell notes that he tries to talk fire departments into putting a sprinkler riser room in the corner of the apparatus bay where it can be used as a training opportunity. “You can take a live riser and turn it into a training prop,” he says. “If there are no sprinklers in the building, we suggest putting in a dummy riser for training.”

11 The Dale City (VA) Fire Department had Hughes Group Architects design a stair tower to include a window and a balconied door as training props.
11 The Dale City (VA) Fire Department had Hughes Group Architects design a stair tower to include a window and a balconied door as training props.

A training room that Mickelberg designed also saw use for training props. “We’ve built a wall mockup of various fire sprinkler risers where you could open a door and see the different brands and configurations,” he says. “They were charged with water so you could turn on different heads and see spray patterns and flow alarms. It looked like a long, skinny shower stall with a glass front that was controlled from the outside.”

Rod Carringer, chief marketing officer for Task Force Tips and fire station design/project manager for the Center Township (IN) Volunteer Fire Department, says the department is designing training props into its new station. “We intend to block in the upper level above the mechanical/air/maintenance rooms in the apparatus bays and have several open window areas that can be laddered from the bay floor or would allow some rope work,” Carringer says. “Additionally, a metal-grated staircase would provide access to a metal access door on the second level, allowing for stair advancement and door entry training. Inside, we anticipate some movable wall structure for interior search.”

12 This hose drying tower designed by Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects has an attached ladder and window training props where entry/exit exercises can be done as well as laddering from the exterior. (Photos 12-14 courtesy of Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects.)
12 This hose drying tower designed by Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects has an attached ladder and window training props where entry/exit exercises can be done as well as laddering from the exterior. (Photos 12-14 courtesy of Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects.)

Unusual Props

Shoemaker says the most unusual training prop he’s seen was on a Hawaiian island where the fire department did a lot of helicopter rescues. “They had an exterior stair tower with a platform at the top and a pipe simulating the helicopter’s skid,” he says. “They were simulating using the hoist on a helicopter for a rescue.”

13 This confined space training prop is built into the structure above the mezzanine on a station designed by Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects.
13 This confined space training prop is built into the structure above the mezzanine on a station designed by Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects.

Another unusual training prop Shoemaker designed was an elaborate confined space trainer for a fire department in Ohio. “The station had a mezzanine, first floor, and basement where a manhole was cut in the mezzanine where they could slide a storm pipe down to a manhole in the first floor and then down into the basement,” he says. “There were access openings at the mezzanine and first floor, and in the basement there was a horizontal pipe to continue the scenario.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist, the author of three novels and five nonfiction books, and 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.

14 This exterior walkway designed by Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects includes a grated hatch to allow for rope rescue and rappelling training.
14 This exterior walkway designed by Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects includes a grated hatch to allow for rope rescue and rappelling training.