Willingboro (NJ) Fire and EMS had outgrown its 1960s-era fire and EMS station that was set in separate side-by-side buildings but didn’t meet the operational needs of the department in the 21st century. In addition, Willingboro wanted to consolidate three volunteer departments, each with its own station, into a single department under one roof.
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“We’re a combination department with 22 paid full-time firefighters, 20 volunteer firefighters, 22 paid per-diem EMTs, and five volunteer EMTs, protecting a town of 7-½ square miles that’s mostly residential, with some commercial buildings and apartment complexes, says Anthony Burnett, Willingboro’s chief. “We have a lot of apparatus that include three engines, one 95-foot aerial ladder, one rescue truck, one brush truck, three chief’s vehicles, one fire police vehicle, three utility vehicles, a 14-foot boat, one EMS command car, and four ambulances. So, we were going to need a big station to house all that apparatus.”
Burnett adds that, “The old station actually was two buildings that were attached, but you had to go outside in order to move between the buildings. There were no proper bunk rooms, so we had to convert offices into dorm rooms, and no training area, either. The old building just didn’t work for how we operate today.”
Paul Erickson, principal architect at LeMay Erickson Willcox Architects, says his firm received a solicitation RFQ (request for credentials) from Willingboro, and after submitting their credentials, made the short list of architects being considered to design the station and then were chosen to be the project’s architect. “The department was faced with being in a very old, dilapidated building where the working conditions were outdated,” Erickson notes, “and they wanted to consolidate three other volunteer departments into the new station. It was a challenge to take the features and best aspects from four different departments and consolidate them under a single location.”
Bobby Celio, architect and project manager, points out that the fire and EMS departments had been separate entities under the same chief, but that in the new station they would become one department. “We wanted to bring both groups together and integrate them yet allow them to have spaces to call their own,” Celio says. “So, we designed one large communal space day room, and also a communal dining room, and outdoor grilling area with its own dining area but also planned smaller rooms for quieter space and breakout rooms where they could work on reports or other projects.”
The resulting is a 40,000-square-foot, two-story structure, with eight double-deep, drive-through apparatus bays. The second story of the station holds 17 single- occupancy bunk rooms, two of which are large enough to hold two beds and eight single-user gender-neutral rest rooms that hold a shower, water closet, and lavatory. Erickson points out that stairs at the front and rear of the second-floor space discharge into a travel lane to the apparatus bays, and at the midpoint of the dorm area is a pole that feeds into the middle area of the bays below.
Celio adds that with eight apparatus bays, LeMay Erickson Willcox faced the design challenge of where to put the support spaces on the first floor. “Usually they are on the opposite side of the building from the living spaces, but that was too far,” he says. “The four closest bays to the living spaces were the main operational bays, so we put the support spaces down the middle of the eight-bay space. These included a decon area with a shower, a laundry room, PPE storage, workshop, toilet room, and general storage area. It allowed us to put a mezzanine on top for additional storage and also to build in training aids, like tie-offs; operable gates into the bay; and a couple of window openings that face the second set of four bays.”
Erickson says that the first-floor living space area includes a lobby with a historical museum space and a multipurpose classroom that can be used by the public as well as firefighters, but doesn’t compromise the operational part of the station. The first floor also has a large exercise room that is accessible from outside so other town department employees can use it; a kitchen, dining area; day room; pantry; vending area; and administrative area that holds offices for the chief, deputy chief, and captain, as well as a conference room.
The new Willingboro station also is designed to keep contaminants inadvertently brought into the apparatus bays from migrating into living spaces, Erickson points out. “This is a design with the apparatus bays and support spaces that might be exposed to contamination in the red or hot zone, the living quarters fully separated in the green zone, and the corridors between the two being a transition area in the yellow zone,” he says. “We have separate mechanical zones for the living area and the apparatus bays and always have a positive pressure environment in the green zone to prevent contaminants from coming in.”
Erickson notes that Willingboro’s station has a Plymovent direct-capture exhaust system in the apparatus bays, radiant slab heating, four-fold apparatus bay doors on the front of the station, and roll-up doors on the rear.
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.