Petrillo, The Fire Station, The Station Articles

BRW Architects Gets LEED Silver Designation for Houston (TX) Fire Station 84

Issue 7 and Volume 22.

By Alan M. Petrillo

The Houston (TX) Fire Department was looking to add a new station and concentrated on energy efficiency as a hallmark for the new structure.

The fire department turned to Brown Reynolds Watford (BRW) Architects to design the station that would take up about two acres on an eight-acre city site that will serve as a public safety location to ultimately include a new police station.

Energy Efficiency

“We wanted to think outside the box in terms of air-conditioning and heating,” says Mark Donovan, Houston’s assistant fire chief. “We went with geothermal cooling and heating, the first of our 93 stations to use geothermal. We also wanted to get the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating that we could, and geothermal provided a very big bump on that score. Plus, we thought we also might see significant cost savings on energy.”

1 Houston (TX) Fire Department Ladder 26 exits Station 84. The department and the architects, Brown Reynolds Watford Architects, won a LEED award for the station. (Photos courtesy of Michael Lyon and Brown Reynolds Watford Architects
1 Houston (TX) Fire Department Ladder 26 exits Station 84. The department and the architects, Brown Reynolds Watford Architects, won a LEED award for the station. (Photos courtesy of Michael Lyon and Brown Reynolds Watford Architects.)

Nearly a year after the department moved into the station in April 2016, Donovan compared the new Station 84 electrical usage to that of Houston’s 1980s-era Station 75. “The electricity use for Station 84 is about $1,200 a month, which is around $300 a month less than Station 75, even though Station 84 is more than 50 percent larger at 15,500 square feet compared to Station 75’s 10,200 square feet,” he says. BRW and the department won a Silver LEED award for Station 84.

Station 84 also makes use of a great deal of natural ambient light, Donovan points out, as well as sustainable products, such as cabinetry made out of bamboo. “We also have all LED lighting and an access-controlled location where we can pull off the roadway and activate the Opticom to get in the gate and close it after entering,” he says. “We also have on-site fueling for our apparatus and a backup generator that will power 100 percent capacity of the station when needed.”

2 The kitchen in Houston’s Station 84 uses cabinetry constructed of bamboo and is surrounded by clerestory windows to provide natural, ambient light.
2 The kitchen in Houston’s Station 84 uses cabinetry constructed of bamboo and is surrounded by clerestory windows to provide natural, ambient light.

Gary DeVries, principal at BRW Architects, says that once BRW got the award to design the station, his staff visited other Houston stations, asking firefighters what they liked and disliked about their quarters. “We also consulted with the fire chief for his vision of what he wanted Station 84 to look like, which was modern architecture, and the head of the General Services Department, who wanted a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art station,” DeVries says.

Building Features

For the geothermal mechanical system, DeVries says the construction manager, J.E. Dunn Contracting, drilled 30 wells that would discharge heat for the heat pumps in the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning system located on the mezzanine in the station. The wells were drilled 200 to 300 feet deep and were spaced between 25 and 30 feet apart. “We had to be sure the wells were spaced properly in order to perform; otherwise, they could become a heat sink and degrade the cooling ability of the system,” he points out.

3 Houston Fire Department Station 84 features five drive-through apparatus bays.
3 Houston Fire Department Station 84 features five drive-through apparatus bays.

Chris Sano, BRW’s design director, says BRW had a tough exterior built for Station 84. “We used silver corrugated metal panels with black zinc and elements of wood and painted glass,” Sano says. “There are strong, deep roof overhangs to give as much shade to the building as possible and to channel rain away from the edge of the building and protect firefighters and visitors from the weather.”

The kitchen and dining areas of the station have clerestory windows all around, Sano notes, and a roof with a structural cedar wood deck over the top of it. “We wanted to use a lot of natural light, so the kitchen and living spaces have a lot of windows, as do the apparatus bays, which have clerestory windows in front and back, allowing the firefighters to be able to work inside without artificial lighting,” he says. A large covered patio and barbecue area can be found off the dining area, while the kitchen features a large island for prepping and eating food, as well as a large dining table.

4 The station currently houses a Ferrara 105-foot aerial ladder, a Spartan pumper with a 1,500-gpm pump and 500-gallon water tank, and a Fraser ambulance
4 The station currently houses a Ferrara 105-foot aerial ladder, a Spartan pumper with a 1,500-gpm pump and 500-gallon water tank, and a Fraser ambulance.

The five apparatus bays are drive-through with clear glass sectional doors front and back on a north-south orientation. The apparatus bays have numerous cord drops and vehicle exhaust systems. Currently the apparatus bays hold a Spartan pumper with a 1,500-gallon-per-minute pump and 500-gallon water tank, a Ferrara 105-foot aerial ladder, and a Fraser ambulance.

Houston Fire wanted two beds per dorm room and ended up with a total of six dorm rooms for a total of 12 firefighters, plus two individual dorm rooms for a captain and a lieutenant. Wardrobe lockers for the six firefighter dorm rooms are located immediately outside of the bedrooms, while the officer’s lockers are inside their rooms.

5 BRW Architects used diamond-polished concrete for the floors in Station 84, a durable, low-maintenance, cost-effective choice.
5 BRW Architects used diamond-polished concrete for the floors in Station 84, a durable, low-maintenance, cost-effective choice.

Challenges

The cost of Station 84 was $5,740,000, DeVries notes. “Where the city wanted the station located on the eight-acre site was four feet below the level of the road,” he says. “We had to bring in substantial fill to have a flat driveway and raise the site out of the flood plain. We first had to remove trees and scrape dirt to get to the subgrade before bringing in the fill, so there was a lot of site preparation before we could begin building.”

6 The rear of Station 84 has a large covered patio with a barbecue area off the station’s kitchen
6 The rear of Station 84 has a large covered patio with a barbecue area off the station’s kitchen.

Another challenge BRW faced was the type of flooring to use, which DeVries points out is always a concern in fire stations. “We went with a durable, low-maintenance, cost-effective finish that looks good,” he says. “We put in diamond-polished concrete, which is a good balance between comfortable and warm, yet is a durable interior finish.”

DeVries adds that Houston “has well-designed information technology and communications systems. Station 84 uses the same design standards as all other Houston fire stations, which integrate computer, radio, and alerting systems.”

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.