Anatomy of a Fire Station

Robert Tutterow   Robert Tutterow

How do we define a truly functional and sustainable fire station? The F.I.E.R.O. Fire Station Symposium, occurring September 28-30 at the Raleigh Sheraton Hotel, is the place to find out.

Fire stations are fascinating facilities. They can be an iconic source of pride for a community or just another nondescript public facility. Because of their complexity, only a handful of architects are experienced enough to design a truly functional and sustainable facility. They are complex in that they can have any of the following elements: garage, restaurant, dormitory, family room, classroom, offices, repair shops, warehouse, fitness room, decontamination room, community rooms, training props, museum, and other elements particular to a community. Each of the elements has unique characteristics to the fire service.

A veteran metro fire chief once said the two most difficult things about a fire station are putting one in a neighborhood and taking one out of a neighborhood. Unfortunately, most news stories about fire stations involve community push back when a new station in proposed-i.e., NIMBY. To address this situation, one of the F.I.E.R.O. Symposium presentations will be by Dennis Ross, titled “Gaining and Maintaining Community Support.” For many fire personnel, the design and building of a fire station is a once-in-a-career challenge. Ken Newell’s presentation titled “Where Do I Start” is ideal for setting the stage for a station that meets the fire department’s and community’s needs. There will also be a presentation on site selection and a “Firehouse Design 101” presentation.

Safety and Health

As this is a safety column, I would be remiss if I did not mention fire station safety. Having reviewed almost 3,000 firefighter personal injury reports during my career, I was astonished at how many occurred in and around the fire station. Fortunately, most were minor injuries, but there were a notable number that led to lost time and high workers’ compensation costs. In fact, the most expensive workers’ compensation case during my 24 years as health and safety officer occurred as the result of a slide-pole injury to a civilian employee. Though not firefighter-related, the costs and impact on that person and the city were the same as if it happened to a firefighter. Slips, falls, sprains, and strains are common fire station injuries. Kevin Roche will give a presentation about safety in the fire station. He has a very comprehensive list of station-related safety and health issues, complete with photos, that is historically one of the highest rated presentations.

Cancer and Fire Stations

Cancer is the silent killer of firefighters, and the fire station has been referred to as a collection point for carcinogens for fire incidents. Note the use of the word “collection” rather than “containment.” I think the fire station is a distribution point for carcinogens as firefighters often carry contaminated gear with them when they leave the station. In addition, we allow the public to touch, wear, and handle contaminated gear and equipment during station tours. To learn ways to minimize this risk, Paul Erickson of LeMay Erickson Willcox Architects will present “Hot Zone Design: Contain the Contaminants.” This is a concept he has pioneered.

An additional health and safety presentation related to cancer will be given by Kirk Owen, retired assistant chief with the Plano (TX) Fire Department and past chair of the National Fire Protection Association structural personal protective equipment (PPE) technical committee. Owen will describe various station considerations for PPE care and maintenance. His emphasis will be on PPE storage.

Other features of a fire station that have a firefighter safety element will be discussed during the symposium, including station alerting systems (audible and visual aspects), kitchens (health), doors, bunk rooms, and the best flooring materials for various areas of the station.

Many fire stations across the country display the National Safe Place Organization’s yellow and black diamond-shaped “Safe Place” signs attached to the station front. It is a sign that is universally recognized and used by youth across America as the place to go for immediate help and safety. If the fire station is a safe place for children, we need to be sure it is indeed a safe and healthy place.

Station Design Awards

Just before the symposium, F.I.E.R.O. conducts its annual fire station design awards competition. The judging is done two days before the event, and all the entries are available for participants to view. All of the judges, referred to as jurors, are fire service people with degrees in architecture. In fact, the most compelling time during the symposium is when the fire service jurors critique the award entries. It is a true learning experience-even for the architects.

The speakers at the symposium are a blend of the most experienced fire station design architects and fire service personnel with expertise and experience in fire station issues. Captain Don Collins, Clemson (SC) University Fire Department and professor emeritus with the Clemson University Design Studios, will cover the almost infinite number of things that work for stations and things that don’t work. Battalion Chief (ret.) Dave Hartman, Charlottesville (VA) Fire Department, Captain (ret.) Robert Main, Honolulu (HI) Fire Department, Administrative Services Manager Curt Pronk, Rochester (NY) Fire Department, and architect Craig Carter with the BKV Group will each share first-hand experiences in placing new fire stations in their communities. Other topics include renovate or rebuild, staying within budget, and the always shortchanged issue of storage.

Details for the 2015 F.I.E.R.O. Fire Station Symposium can be found at

ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).

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