What’s Cookin’?

The fire station kitchen is a unique setting among all types of facilities.
The fire station kitchen is a unique setting among all types of facilities. It goes way beyond cooking and eating. Fire stations have kitchen tables instead of dining tables.

The kitchen table is where firefighters bond by sharing family stories, critiquing responses, watching TV, reading the paper, playing cards, etc. It is the place for gossip and a breeding ground for new conspiracies and spreading existing conspiracies. It is a natural setting for starting rumors and enhancing existing rumors. All of this creates no better environment (perhaps outside of athletic facilities) for developing teamwork.

With the emergence of carcinogen contamination spread and the virus spread, a mountain of new information about fire station design has developed. As a result, many jurisdictions are looking at building new stations and renovating/expanding existing stations. In looking at kitchens, there are many considerations. For example, how many times have you walked into a station kitchen and found a large garbage container sitting in the open floor? This is not a healthy situation, as they are often uncovered. These open containers are there because the architect who designed the station had no clue about how kitchens are used. A station that is staffed 24/7 with all adults generates far more waste than does a typical family of four. A household trash can will simply not handle the quantities, so firefighters do what they do best—improvise. Fire departments must be knowledgeable about the latest in fire station design to ensure they are getting a station that is fully functional and healthy for the firefighters.

There are many other aspects of a kitchen to consider when addressing firefighter health and safety. Finishes are of utmost importance. Countertops must be nonporous to minimize bacteria and staining. Products like stainless steel, quartz, and solid surface products work well. Avoid products such as concrete and granite—despite their feel and appearance, they are porous. Backsplashes should be higher than in household kitchens and also made of a nonporous material; tile is acceptable if the grout lines are sealed.

Cabinetry should have a nontextured, smooth finish. Remember that cabinetry should be oversized where possible to accommodate the larger cookware typical of a fire station. Though wood can be refinished, it is susceptible to water damage. Never use particleboard. I saw a new fire station that used particleboard cabinetry, and the cabinets had to be removed and replaced after only two years. A phenolic resin-type product works well for this application. Fire departments should reference the National Sanitation Foundation for a listing of cooking equipment that has been independently certified to meet stringent requirements for maintaining a higher level of food safety.

Although it seems somewhat ridiculous, fire station kitchens must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is the law and one that has been challenged unsuccessfully many times. The big issue here is that the kitchen sink must be wheelchair accessible. The solution here is to have two sinks, one of which is accessible. This brings the kitchen into ADA compliance. A creative architect can design the second sink so it can be functional as a “prep” sink.

The kitchen must be large to accommodate shift work. Each shift should have its own pantry and its own refrigerator. There is probably a need for more than one microwave oven, and the kitchen is the ideal place for installing a large icemaker to fill coolers. The kitchen location puts it in a healthy area, near water supplies and water drains, and in a climate-controlled area. Never put the icemaker on the apparatus bay floor because of residual diesel exhaust, the off-gassing of fire equipment, and it typically is not air-conditioned (leading to the inefficiency of the unit). I have seen an apparatus bay’s icemaker fail, and the water in the bottom of the machine from the melted ice had an oil slick on the residual water.

It is crucial to consider the features of the station alerting system. It must be easily visible and integrated with cooking and food/beverage heating appliances. Cooktops, ovens, coffee makers, and so on should automatically shut down on receipt of an alarm. I have seen the aftermath of unattended “food on the stove” start a station kitchen fire. It was very embarrassing for the on-duty crew.

Finally, the floor should be slip-resistant and seamless for easy cleaning. Chow down!

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 40-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 Education Resource Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).

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