By Robert Tutterow
Is there such a thing as painless cost cutting? Yes. And, it has to do with the operating costs of fire stations. Granted, the cost reductions may not be big savings over a short period of time, but over the lifespan of a fire station the costs are fairly significant. Consider the following “average” building initial and ongoing lifespan costs as determined by Thomas Dolan Planning and Management. The initial costs are broken down as follows: land costs are less than one percent; design is one percent; construction is 20 percent; and original furnishings are six percent. The ongoing costs are broken down as follows: replacement furnishings are four percent; operations and utilities are 16 percent; maintenance is 29 percent; and interest on construction loans is 24 percent. The ongoing costs for a fire station are higher than an average building if it is occupied 24/7. There are several ways to reduce ongoing costs and direct the funds toward items that have a direct and positive impact on service delivery and, most importantly, firefighter safety.
The fire service has always paid attention to building construction, and the green building movement is no exception. We often think that green only applies to new construction. However, there are several elements of green that can be applied to existing stations. At last year’s annual F.I.E.R.O. Fire Station Symposium, Keith Pehl with Optima Engineering and Ken Newell with Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects gave a presentation titled “Reducing Operating Costs and Maintaining Your Existing Station-Practical Sustainability.” In their presentation, they reported that green buildings can reduce energy use from 24 to 50 percent, CO2 emissions from 33 to 39 percent, water use by 40 percent, and solid waste by 70 percent. In addition to the economic benefits of green buildings to a department’s community, green buildings show that the fire department is being socially responsible and good stewards of the environment.
The need to control fire station utility costs will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. For example, electricity costs have increased 22 percent in the past ten years and natural gas costs have increased 100 percent. Most utility companies estimate an average increase of four percent annually for the next 10 years. And, the Carbon Cap and Trade legislation is estimated to create an overnight increase of 20 percent on energy costs. Do the math. Are these costs that the fire service should continue to absorb without any attempt to manage them?
There are additional benefits for green buildings. They provide for a healthier environment for firefighters. There is a tremendous improvement in air quality. Green buildings do a better job of controlling temperature, humidity, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and particulates. This leads to less likelihood for mold and mildew growth.
What are other “sustainable” measures that fire departments can take to minimize the lifespan costs of their stations? If a new station is being planned, it is imperative that the design incorporate expansion plans. This includes additional apparatus bay space; additional dormitory space; additional office space; and maybe, most importantly, additional storage space.
Material selection is a primary consideration in long-term sustainability. Base material selection on durability and low maintenance. Do not forget exterior materials. For parking and drive areas, there are light duty materials and heavy duty materials. Areas for fire apparatus and other heavy vehicles must use heavy duty materials-i.e., properly installed reinforced concrete or pavers. Driveway and parking areas for light vehicles can use light duty materials such as asphalt. Departments should take measures to restrict access to the light duty surface areas by heavy vehicles.
Landscaping around a fire station is problematic in most situations. Firefighters do not care to spend their time mowing grass and taking care of plantings-nor should they. It is not a part of service delivery. Nonetheless, a fire station should blend well with the community, and its curb appeal should be in the upper quadrant of curb appeal in relation to surrounding properties. Natural areas will minimize mowing. Often landscape professionals will offer free consultation to a fire department on plantings that require minimal maintenance.
ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been 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.).