16 Tips for Planning a Fire-Rescue Facility in 2016

By Ken Newell, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

After a design firm spends more than years designing more than 300 fire-rescue facilities, it is often asked by public safety personnel beginning the facility planning process, “What are some of the tips you can give us for our station project?” This is not a top 16 list but is simply a random list of ideas we find ourselves repeating to our clients and those in the preplanning stage.

  1. A full site survey, including topography and many other data characteristics, will be necessary for design and construction. With the proper “survey checklist,” there is nothing to keep you from having the survey performed even before you hire a design professional.
  2. Before selecting your architect, be sure to speak with several of its past public safety clients to gauge their level of satisfaction with the architect’s performance.
  3. There are many nonconstruction costs associated with a project. These are typically referred to as “soft costs” and can include items such as land acquisition, surveys, special inspections, furnishings, equipment, design fees, etc.
  4. “Free property” often turns out to be very expensive based on its development cost; unusable easements and right-of-ways; or what is below the ground surface, i.e., unsuitable soils, rock, high ground water, buried debris, etc.
  5. You may be able to secure additional capital funding sources if you provide minimal space for other agencies like EMS, a police substation, or parks and recreation space.
  6. Collect literature or cut sheets on the equipment you plan to purchase for the new facilities, such as extractors, compressors, alerting systems. This information will be needed during the facility design.
  7. Try to include “end users” on your planning committee. They have a vested interest in being dedicated to the project’s success. If they are not included, they will certainly find items in the finished facility that don’t meet their expectations.
  8. It is almost always less expensive to build a one-story station compared to a two-story station, assuming you have the proper site to do so.
  9. Plan the site and facility for future growth and modifications. It will happen.
  10. You can incorporate indoor and outdoor training props into the design for relatively little cost.
  11. Select durable, maintenance-free materials and systems for inside and outside.
  12. If you choose to use glass on the apparatus bay doors, consider not using it at the bottom panel. The glass at the bottom of the door is what requires cleaning most often.
  13. There are many systems that apply color to the apparatus bay floors during construction, but very few of them provide a meaningful UV color fastness warranty in writing.
  14. Prior to pouring the apparatus bay floors, have the building contractor pour a sample floor panel so you can approve the floor finish you expect to receive with the final product.
  15. Your department may be eligible for grants or low-interest loans from government agencies such as FEMA, FHA, or USDA.
  16. If you don’t have a good sense of humor, develop one. It will come in handy in this project and in life!

For more information on these ideas or many others, contact us or any experienced public safety design professional.

KEN NEWELL, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, IAFC, has earned a national reputation for the programming and design of public safety facilities that are functional, practical and budget-conscious. Newell has been directly involved in the planning and design of more than 250 fire stations, EMS stations, and public safety training facility projects designed by Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects. He has also consulted other architects on the design of more than 70 public safety projects spanning 27 States. Many of these stations have received national design award recognition.

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