Petrillo, The Fire Station, The Station Articles

Designing an Environmentally Friendly “Green” Fire Station

Issue 10 and Volume 22.

By Alan M. Petrillo

1 Mitchell Associates Architects designs fire stations that use 2x8-inch wood studs with spray foam insulation in between, then sheeting and concrete block facing outside to get to an R22 insulation value. (Photos 1-3 courtesy of Mitchell Associates Architects.)
1 Mitchell Associates Architects designs fire stations that use 2×8-inch wood studs with spray foam insulation in between, then sheeting and concrete block facing outside to get to an R22 insulation value. (Photos 1-3 courtesy of Mitchell Associates Architects.)

Fire departments around the country are choosing to design “green” elements into their new or remodeled fire stations – from the use of sustainable materials and taking advantage of natural lighting, to energy-producing solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays, energy-saving PV water heating systems, and LED lighting systems.

Energy Requirements

2 This roof array of photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate electricity was installed on this Rensselaer (NY) Fire Department station designed by Mitchell Associates Architects
2 This roof array of photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate electricity was installed on this Rensselaer (NY) Fire Department station designed by Mitchell Associates Architects.

What really matters in fire station design, says Bob Mitchell, principal in Mitchell Associates Architects, “first and foremost is energy. We can achieve very high R values (insulating values), up to R32 in many cases,” Mitchell says. “The typical wall in an office area is a steel stud with insulation on the outside, like a Dow Styrofoam screwed onto the studs, but the system’s insulating value is diminished by the steel. We use 2×8-inch wood studs with spray foam insulation in between, then sheeting outside. With concrete block facing, we can get to a R32 value.”

Mitchell points out that many municipalities building fire stations are looking to have Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. “LEED looks not only at the materials used but also at health-related matters for the individuals who will be in the building,” he says. “That means no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as lots of daylight with views and vast expanses of north-facing glass, which often can conflict with energy efficiency.”

3 This modern, ultra-high-efficiency, compact boiler uses PVC as an exhaust flue, has 95 percent efficiency to drive down annual operating costs, has variable-frequency ultra-high-efficiency circulators, and produces extremely low air pollution from nitrous oxide
3 This modern, ultra-high-efficiency, compact boiler uses PVC as an exhaust flue, has 95 percent efficiency to drive down annual operating costs, has variable-frequency ultra-high-efficiency circulators, and produces extremely low air pollution from nitrous oxide.

Ken Newell, principal in Stewart Cooper Newell Architects, says, “What we are seeing industrywide is a little less desire to follow a prescribed program, like LEED or Green Globes, and more desire to design and incorporate sustainable features into the facility.” Newell notes that two years ago his firm “was commissioned to do a LEED Silver station, which meant that they would have to pay an additional $60,000 or more for the LEED certification. Instead, the municipality used the $60,000 to incorporate more sustainable features in the fire station,” he explains.

Sustainability

4 Clerestory windows help provide natural lighting in the apparatus room of this Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Department station to augment the highly efficient LED lighting. The station, designed by Stewart Cooper Newell Architects, earned a LEED Silver Award. (Photos 4-7 courtesy of Stewart Cooper Newell Architects.)
4 Clerestory windows help provide natural lighting in the apparatus room of this Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Department station to augment the highly efficient LED lighting. The station, designed by Stewart Cooper Newell Architects, earned a LEED Silver Award. (Photos 4-7 courtesy of Stewart Cooper Newell Architects.)

Designing a sustainable site for a fire station, Newell says, “is a big deal. We design sites to collect storm water in responsible ways and not build huge retaining ponds that are difficult to maintain. We design systems to collect rain water, filter it, and use it for needs like washing apparatus and flushing toilets.” Newell points out that large above-ground water storage tanks usually only collect roof rainwater, while departments that also want to collect storm runoff generally have underground holding tanks installed.

Water efficiency is an important design element in green fire stations, says Newell. “We consider gray water systems that can be used inside and outside the station,” he says, “as well as water conservation efforts through low-flow fixtures and waterless toilets.” However, he points out, gray water and fresh water need separate piping systems, and that can increase the cost of a building project.

5 Sustainable elements of the Carrobo (NC) Fire Department station designed by Stewart Cooper Newell Architects include efficient heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems; water-saving features in site landscaping; “green” interior finishes; and an onsite rainwater capture/reuse system.
5 Sustainable elements of the Carrobo (NC) Fire Department station designed by Stewart Cooper Newell Architects include efficient heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems; water-saving features in site landscaping; “green” interior finishes; and an onsite rainwater capture/reuse system.

Lynn Reda, principal in Hughes Group Architects, says that typically the driving force behind building green fire stations is a county, city, or other municipality. “Occasionally we run across other fire department clients who want a more environmentally conscious building, but they are usually volunteers or privately owned fire departments who recognize the value in it,” Reda observes. In her experience, she says, “fire departments usually will use green building elements as long as they don’t take money away from other fire department things.”

Reda recommends that sustainability features in fire stations be low-maintenance and durable and that the firefighters be invested in the use of green elements. “We often involve the fire department in the selection of fixtures like-low flow shower heads,” she says, “so they can understand the benefit and not have the fixtures be a burden on them.”

6 This Charlotte (NC) Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Station at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport was designed by Stewart Cooper Newell Architects, has a solar hot water system (shown), high-efficiency HVAC systems and lighting, and a 100-kW photovoltaic array to offset energy costs and uses natural daylighting. The station earned a LEED Silver certification.
6 This Charlotte (NC) Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Station at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport was designed by Stewart Cooper Newell Architects, has a solar hot water system (shown), high-efficiency HVAC systems and lighting, and a 100-kW photovoltaic array to offset energy costs and uses natural daylighting. The station earned a LEED Silver certification.

How a fire station is oriented on a building site is very important, Reda maintains. “Consider having large windows exposed to the south and the west, with north and east clerestory windows for more natural light,” Reda says. “You can reduce the energy load because you won’t have to use indoor lighting during the day, plus the natural light is very good for humans.” However, she adds, the operation of the station is the number one concern to address, so an architect doesn’t want to orient a building so the apparatus has to do a few turns to get out of the station.

Phoenix (AZ) Experience

7 The North Port (FL) Fire Rescue Department and Police Substation No. 82, designed by Stewart Cooper Newell Architects, uses green elements such as a rainwater harvesting system, water-conserving fixtures, efficient lighting, and low-/no-VOC finishes
7 The North Port (FL) Fire Rescue Department and Police Substation No. 82, designed by Stewart Cooper Newell Architects, uses green elements such as a rainwater harvesting system, water-conserving fixtures, efficient lighting, and low-/no-VOC finishes.

Jim Zwerg, architect and facility manager for the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department, says Phoenix Fire had one of the first LEED-certified fire stations in the Southwest, and perhaps the country, when it had Station 50 built in 2002. At that time, Phoenix began a project to make all new fire stations LEED-certifiable, designing them with the technology and materials that meet the LEED process. “Since then, the shells of our stations have been built with insulated concrete forms to get a really high R value,” Zwerg says. “And, they use low-VOC paints and high energy efficiency (E) glass. Also, we design the stations to be low maintenance, so there are no carpets, as few fabrics as possible, and all scrubable surfaces.”

Zwerg adds that the architects who design Phoenix fire stations lay out site plans to take full advantage of sunlight and usually include solar canopies over parking areas to generate power for electrical needs. “We also have white roofs to reflect the heat,” he says, “and have a pilot program at one station where there’s a photovoltaic water heater on the roof. In addition, we like to use permeable pavers on our sites instead of asphalt because they help in rainwater collection, and you then don’t need as large a water retention area.”

8 The Dale City (VA) Volunteer Fire Department Station No. 10 was designed by Hughes Group Architects using recycled content materials, low-VOC paints and interiors, low-flow water fixture and waterless urinals, and a storm water capture system. (Photos 8-10 courtesy of Hughes Group Architects.)
8 The Dale City (VA) Volunteer Fire Department Station No. 10 was designed by Hughes Group Architects using recycled content materials, low-VOC paints and interiors, low-flow water fixture and waterless urinals, and a storm water capture system. (Photos 8-10 courtesy of Hughes Group Architects.)

Reducing energy use in fire stations is another component in Phoenix’s green building program. “We are reducing energy use on the mechanical side by putting in multiple high seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) air-conditioning units, going for saturation as opposed to volume,” Zwerg says. “It’s better to have five two-ton air-conditioning units, rather than two five-ton units. If one of the five two-ton units breaks down, you still have eight tons of air conditioning working for you.”

Other Considerations

9 Hughes Group Architects used plenty of windows for natural light in designing the station for Fairfax Center (VA) Fire and Rescue Station 40.
9 Hughes Group Architects used plenty of windows for natural light in designing the station for Fairfax Center (VA) Fire and Rescue Station 40.

Mitchell says it’s important to make fire stations as airtight as possible. “Doing that serves two functions,” he says. “First, it makes your heating and air-conditioning units more effective and efficient and also allows you to make a boundary wall between the dirty and clean areas of the station to prevent cross-contamination.” Plus, station designers would take advantage of free sources of energy, if available, such as geothermal for heating in winter and cooling in summer.”

Roofs covered in sod seem to have gained some favor in recent years, Mitchell observes, but they don’t stack up with the insulating value of other materials. “The R value of soil is R6 per one foot depth of soil,” he says, “while the R value of rigid insulation is R6 per inch, so a foot of rigid insulation is R72. That means a green sod roof is not better insulation than foam, although a green roof mediates water runoff, where rigid insulation does not.”

10 The Fairfax (VA) Center Station has a storm water management system, low-flow shower heads and other fixtures, siphon jet urinals, insulated glass tinted with a low-E coating, recycled floor tile, and recycled glass
10 The Fairfax (VA) Center Station has a storm water management system, low-flow shower heads and other fixtures, siphon jet urinals, insulated glass tinted with a low-E coating, recycled floor tile, and recycled glass.

Mitchell also recommends that fire departments choose materials for inside the station that don’t outgas. “Low-VOC materials can be bought for a modest premium,” he says. “For instance, you might choose flooring materials that don’t need stripping and waxing, so you don’t introduce chemicals in that living space. A lot of the things we do in designing a station to reduce the cancer risk for firefighters are the things we do in designing a green building.”

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.

11 Phoenix (AZ) Fire Station No. 72 is built to LEED certification standards using insulated concrete forms for a high R value, low-VOC paints, and high-E glass. [Photos 11 and 12 courtesy of the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department.]
11 Phoenix (AZ) Fire Station No. 72 is built to LEED certification standards using insulated concrete forms for a high R value, low-VOC paints, and high-E glass. [Photos 11 and 12 courtesy of the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department.]
12 This close-up view shows the construction of high-R value walls in Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department stations using insulated concrete forms, an interior facing material, and an outside facing of concrete block and natural stone
12 This close-up view shows the construction of high-R value walls in Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department stations using insulated concrete forms, an interior facing material, and an outside facing of concrete block and natural stone.