Onondaga Nation (NY) had an ageing prefab metal building as its main fire station that needed to be replaced, so the Nation turned to Ashley McGraw Architects, which had done renovations on one of its buildings in the past, to develop a feasibility study concerning a new station.
“We had done renovation work on the Nation’s school, and also produced a master plan for expansion,” says Andrew Schuster, principal at Ashley McGraw. “We looked at the growth in the community and the existing facility, which essentially was rotting away, and determined what was missing and needed upgrading to give the Nation a 21st century fire station for its volunteer firefighters. We also considered the community values and determined how we could incorporate the values and philosophies of the use of natural resources into a new station.”
Schuster says the Onondaga Nation chose to include a shared community hall for the Nation community in the new fire station, which was an amenity that was then lacking in the Nation, and to build the station with labor from their own community, on a site that was across the street from the existing station.
The new fire station is named Tsha’thon’swatha’, meaning “where they put it out,” Schuster notes. The aspirations of the Tsha’thon’swatha’ were that it would be built by the people of the Nation, it will walk gently on Mother Earth, it will be a vital part of the community and draw the community closer, it will be a showpiece and destination for others to see and use, and people will learn from the building and the experience of building it, he adds.
“We wanted the building to blend in with the residential character of the area, but still have the community space that would be nice enough for wedding and birthday celebrations, as well as movie nights,” Schuster says. “The building is wood construction rather than steel because the embodied energy of wood is half that of steel, making the station much more sustainable. We used Rockwood insulation which is dense-packed cellulose and highly fire retardant, and also has the ability to modulate humidity and increase the life span of the building.”
The roof on the 12,500-square-foot station is an uncoated aluminum zip rib roof. “The typical life span of a painted aluminum roof is 60 years,” Schuster observes. “Uncoated, it will oxidize and last significantly longer, for 80 to 90 years, and because aluminum is a virgin material, it can be recycled at the end of its life.”
Schuster notes that the new station is almost net-zero in terms of energy use. “The walls of the station are sealed and insulated, and the station is tied into 10 geothermal wells, each about 400 feet deep, as well as 100-kW of photovoltaic solar panels,” he says. “The Nation only pays about $800 a year for electricity in the station.”
The Onondaga Nation fire station has three back-in apparatus bays with their own separate exhaust system. “At the back of the apparatus bays are a wash room, and a laundry room for a washer/extractor and dryer for turnout gear, with its own separate septic system,” Schuster says. “There’s also a heavy equipment storage room, and a mechanical room, and turnout gear is stored on mobile racks. There’s a storage mezzanine above the back of the apparatus bays, and indirect lighting through windows at the top of the bays.”
At the back of the station with its own entrance is the 3,000-square-foot community room that seats 150 people, with an adjacent state-of-the-art kitchen, and nearby public men’s and women’s bathrooms. Behind the apparatus bays are a firefighter training room and a radio room. The second floor of the station has a chief’s office, a day room for firefighters, and lockable storage room.
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Ariz.-based journalist, the author of three novels and five non-fiction books, and a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including the position of chief.