By Plymovent Staff
With so many organizations studying fire personnel wellness and health in the past few years, attention has turned to designing a healthier fire/EMT station.
In this article, Plymovent has identified four indoor air quality trends that are shaping fire/EMT design, based on our distributors’ discussions with the fire service community and architectural and engineering firms. It has also reviewed the current literature and research related to indoor air quality and emerging issues in fire and EMT station design.
Trend #1: New Diesel Filtering Technologies Are NOT Capturing All Hazards
Diesel engines produce a mixture of toxic gases and particulates from the combustion process. These hazardous vehicle exhaust emissions in a garage or storage facility represent the most significant cancer health risk and a serious legal liability to the owners and operators of these buildings. It is essential to create healthy and safe working conditions by reducing these risks.
Protective measures are an important aspect of this effort. High-quality source capture exhaust removal systems are recommended for existing and new facilities, to ensure that legal exposure limits are not exceeded.
Despite advances made in diesel emission technologies in the past 12 years to greatly reduce soot and particulate matter, a number of objective research studies in recent years have concluded that serious hazards are still emitted from new diesel engines.
For example, studies have shown that diesel trucks equipped with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems are ineﬀective when exhaust temperature is low, such as during a cold start. Further, many researchers have measured increases in ultrafine particle (UFP) emissions from trucks equipped with diesel particulate filters (DPF), especially when exhaust temperatures are high, such as when trucks return from an event or have recently performed active DPF regeneration. Ultrafine particles may be the most dangerous particles contained in diesel exhaust, as they can travel deep into the lungs and may penetrate into the cardiovascular system via respiratory organs.
For example, in one 2018 study, researchers monitored emissions from buses equipped with DPFs and noted that the vehicles “presented low particle number (PN) concentrations for all the measurement range, with an exception of a peak in the nuclei mode particle size.”1
In April 2019, Popular Science magazine summarized a DPF study from the University of British Columbia, which revealed that diesel engine “filters use a chemical reaction that sometimes generates more of another pollutant: nitrogen dioxide. It’s this extra NO2 that seems to make breathing filtered exhaust—at least in the short term—even harder on the lungs than straight diesel fumes.”2
Real-world studies are proving that diesel exhaust is still harmful, and that it must be removed from the apparatus bay.
“The smallest particles are of greatest concern. Small particles penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and can cause or worsen respiratory diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease, leading to increased hospital admissions and even premature death.”
Source: Tackling air pollution from vehicles
Transport & Environment, September 2015
Trend #2: Design Dedicated Wellness and Fitness Areas
Some researchers have noted that wellness programs have become a $6 billion industry. There’s strong evidence to suggest that wellness programs can result in better health for workers. A Harvard study reported that for every dollar companies have spent on wellness programs, medical costs fall $3.27 and absenteeism drops $2.73, a 6-to-1 return on investment.3 The benefits have been equally encouraging for fire personnel, and perhaps no profession needs wellness programs more. Fire Service personnel are at increased risk for musculoskeletal injury, cancer, and cardiorespiratory illness.
The risk of muscle strain and back injuries can be greatly reduced through a physical fitness regimen. Research from Dr. David Frost reveals that firefighters reduce injury and improve occupational performance by learning proper functional movements.
“One emerging issue in fire station design is the additional attention given to firefighter quality of life.”
Source: Design Recommendations, Fire Station
by Eric G. Mion, Lewis & Zimmerman Associates, Inc.
In one 2018 study, a proactive risk management program was put into place into all fire stations in a single community. Each fire station received new exercise equipment that included cardio machines, strength equipment and functional movement equipment. Maintenance assessments were conducted. The results showed a 13 percent average annual reduction in injuries, a 30 percent drop in workers’ compensation injury claims, and 21 percent drop in claims costs (21 percent).4
In a 2016 study by Arizona State researchers, a personal fitness program was put in place for 109 firefighters in the Tucson area, and the wellness program paid for itself. The estimated fitness program implementation costs were $32,192, and the reduction in worker’s compensation costs were $33,000, related to reduced injury claims.5
The Denver (CO) Fire Department has seen a return on investment of more than 100 percent from its wellness program, the result of reduced costs for workers ‘compensation, overtime, and position backfill. The Boston (MA) Fire Department reduced claims related to injuries by 30 percent.
Today, architects and planners are ensuring that the exercise room is enclosed, protecting the firefighters from any dangerous hazards attached to PPE or in the apparatus bay.
To further maximize the investment in personal fitness, today’s fire/EMT stations need to provide optimal air quality. One architecture firm recommends living areas, recuperating areas and fitness centers always provide “positive air pressure compared to apparatus bays. As one architect notes, “because air flows from positive to negative pressures, this ensures any airborne contaminants from [apparatus bays and shower areas] won’t seep into the fresh air of living places.”6
Trend #3: Unified Exhaust Removal in the Apparatus Bays
The apparatus bay should also have a dedicated HVAC system separate from living areas, to ensure that contaminants don’t drift into these areas. The current HVAC system for the living quarters and administrative area should provide a positive pressure atmospheric condition with supplemental makeup air. To this end, the vehicle exhaust system should ensure a seal around the tailpipe to reduce the risks that exhaust will enter the bay. A seal can be made by creating a connection between the hose of the exhaust system and a modified tailpipe adapter placed on each truck’s tailpipe.
When adding a source capture exhaust removal system in the apparatus bay, modern fire stations expect efficient systems that only engage when a wireless system installed on each vehicle is activated. What’s more, the exhaust removal system should include timing devices so that it runs for a minimum amount of time (3-5 minutes) after the engines are turned off to ensure all contaminants are removed from the system. In addition, the system should include manual overrides so that the system can run constantly during apparatus and other gas powered equipment checks.
Plans should call for a vehicle exhaust removal system in which the exhaust fan and all structural components (ductwork, assembly legs) are part of a unified system.
Trend #4: Dedicated Storage Areas for PPE
Today’s fire/EMT stations require dedicated storage space for firefighting, EMS, or other supplies and equipment routinely found in today’s station. It’s now considered a bad practice to make the bay area a storage center for fire and EMS supplies or other equipment. After all, fire and EMS personnel are regularly performing necessary checks, routine maintenance, or preparing to board apparatus for departure to an alarm. Thus, good practice is to limit the exposures to equipment and supplies.
As one architectural firm states: “Dirty PPE and clothing is no longer acceptable in today’s ﬁre service. Fire oﬃcials have come to terms and recognized that cleaning PPE, SCBA and equipment after a ﬁre is an important ﬁrst step in protecting their emergency response personnel from known toxins, carcinogens and cancer.”7
The Health Benefits – and Financial Benefits – of Exhaust Removal Systems
For more than 40 years, Plymovent has been a global leader in developing systems and expertise to ensure your facility selects the right equipment for source capture ventilation.
Plymovent offers Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) format, Division 23 exhaust system specifications. We support architects and engineers with professional fire station and EMT facility design and installation. Our solutions have also been designed for and installed in public works garages, mass transit servicing areas, vocational schools, truck and heavy equipment repair, military repair, airport servicing areas, and others.
In addition, Plymovent and our authorized distributors have years of expertise to advise you with fire station and EMT facility design and installation. As you work with your architects and engineering teams to design a new facility, our experts will share best practices for capturing and extracting dangerous exhaust, based of thousands of system installations.
For more information on Plymovent, visit https://www.plymovent.com/us/vehicle-exhaust-extraction/segments/fire-and-emergency-service-stations.
1. Buses retrofitting with diesel particle filters: Real-world fuel economy and roadworthiness test considerations, Journal of Environmental Science, Rafael Fleischman, October 2017
4. Efficacy of a proactive health and safety risk management system in the fire service, Inj Epidemiol, December, 2018
5. Evaluation of a fitness intervention for new firefighters: injury reduction and economic benefits, Injury Prevention, Stephanie C Griffin, et al, April 2015
6. From Red to Green, Matt Bickel, AIA, LEED AP, John McNamara, AIA, LEED AP, Jake Wollensak, AIA, Woldac, www.woldae.com