The Danville (VA) Fire Department needed a new fire station and headquarters and turned to Stewart Cooper Newell Architects (SCN) (Video Here) for the design, into which SCN incorporated an emergency operations center (EOC), as well as a free-standing 911 facility.
Ken Newell, principal in Stewart Cooper Newell Architects (SCN), says the completed Danville fire station headquarters is rich in symbolism and displays and illustrates how the integration of memorials, museums, and historical content within a fire station can foster relationships, tell the story of a department and community, and honor the firefighting profession, all while being cost-effective.
Newell says his company faced all the typical fire station challenges in designing the facility and had three main goals. The first was to design a state-of-the-art fire department headquarters station that could function for 50 years along with a 911 center and an EOC. Second, Newell says, was to infuse new life into a blighted tobacco warehouse district that the city of Danville wanted to revitalize. SCN’s third goal was to complement and protect the historic architecture and nature of the area.
The project’s site encompassed one and a half city blocks of crumbling buildings and contained two stream channels. Cobblestones, hidden beneath the asphalt, were used as hardscaping material for exterior sidewalks and the interior floor of a glass box museum. The glass box museum protrudes from the front face of the building and provides enhanced views for passing vehicles and pedestrians.
Newell says that two stream channels on the site were left exposed to complement the lawn and green spaces adjacent to the rear patio of the new station. Reclaimed timber framing that was salvaged from the former Danville Lumber Company built during the U.S. Civil War was used to create the grid ceiling of the museum and the main central corridors of the station, while reclaimed brick from the lumber company were used as the base for the curving front reception desk, adjacent to the museum area.
The exterior aesthetic features reflect the design elements and principals found in the surrounding buildings, Newell points out, while the interior of the station contains all the spaces and features of a state-of-the-art fire station. “We wanted a state-of-the-art station that looks like a historic structure,” he says. “So, we took a lot of time studying the historic buildings in the area and identifying their characteristics. We featured a roof with a gable end construction, a formal center front entry door on the facade, hunched window openings in repetitive patterns, clerestory windows and cupolas, and brick detailing with multiwidth brick walls that have a huge amount of texture and relief.”
The Danville Fire Department is a paid department with 145 firefighters who work out of seven stations and also has a state regional hazmat response team and a technical rescue team. The new facility also houses 21 people in a police-fire-rescue dispatch center that covers approximately 45 square miles and a population of 44,000. The department runs seven front-line engines, one ladder, two reserve engines, one reserve ladder, a reserve tower, a special call tender and brush truck, and safety and staff vehicles.
David Eagle, Danville’s fire chief, says the main fire headquarters building is 26,000 square feet, housing administrative offices, 14 firefighters working 24/7, a ladder company, an engine company, a shift commander, a safety officer, and an aerial platform that functions as a special call unit. “It’s a four bay drive-through station,” Eagle says, “that has chief and assistant chief offices, administrative staff, three fire marshals, and a training division.” The 911 building, at 4,800 square feet, is adjacent to the main station.
Eagle says the department is proud of the small museum at the front of the new station that displays a 1909 American LaFrance horse-drawn steamer, the last one in use in Danville until 1930. “We wanted to incorporate the museum to show our history in the new building,” he points out. “The front counter for administration reception is adjacent to the museum, and behind it are the administrative offices, a large training room, and the city’s EOC.
The back of the new station has 14 individual dorm cubicles with seven-foot-high walls but no doors as firefighter housing. “Because the cubicles are open at the top, we didn’t have to put radio speaker and HVAC in each room,” Eagle notes, “but there still is a good element of privacy in each cubicle. Each of the cubes has three beds and one desk for A, B, and C shift beds so firefighters don’t have to change their bedding every day.”
Lockers are located outside the cubes, Eagle says, with each firefighter having an individual locker. Six bathroom suites, each with a toilet, sink, and shower, run down the center of the dorm area, with seven dorm cubes on each side.
“We wanted to build our new station to complement and fit in with the buildings in the old warehouse river district,” Eagle points out. “The design has all the modern technical conveniences, but looks complementary to the river district and fits into the neighborhood like we’ve been here all along.”
The Danville Fire Station Headquarters won a 2015 F.I.E.R.O. Gold Honor Award, as well as a F.I.E.R.O. Firefighter’s Choice Award.
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.