The Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department is on a mission to mitigate firefighter sleep-deprivation issues in its existing fire stations by renovating dorm areas, and in new stations, designing sleeping spaces and running customized alerting systems to combat the problem.
“The old open dorm space went away a long time ago,” says Jim Zwerg, Phoenix Fire’s architect and facilities manager. “When the city of Phoenix adopted the International Building Code (IBC), changing from the Universal Building Code, all of our stations went to individual dorm spaces because the IBC considered sleeping spaces in fire stations under a residential designation, which meant individual dorm rooms for firefighters.”
Zwerg points out that after the market crash in 2009 and 2010, most of the renovations to Phoenix’s fire stations were put on hold—until 2014 when Phoenix renovated Station 33 with the aim of changing its dorms to help mitigate the issue of sleep deprivation. “Stations that are in proximity to the freeways, (Interstate 10 and Interstate 17, as well as several state freeways), and those in heavy call volume areas, some of their companies are going out every 15 to 20 minutes on a call,” Zwerg says. “A firefighter on a 24-hour shift doesn’t get a lot of sleep in those stations.”
The typical dorm room in the stations being renovated is a room that has five-foot-high partitions, which do not solve the audio issues of ambient noise and companies being toned out during the night, Zwerg notes. “We just did a remodel at Station 18 off I-17 at Camelback Road, which is one of the top-10 busiest fire stations in the country,” he says. “The station is two stories with four double-deep, drive-through apparatus bays, and houses two paramedic engines, two rescues (ambulances), and a medic response Ford F-350. In 2020, Engine 18 ran 1,227 calls which is 13.3 calls per shift, Engine 918 ran 1,268 calls for 13.78 calls per shift, Rescue 18 ran 1,078 calls or 11.2 per shift, Rescue 918 ran 610 calls for 6.63 per shift, and MR18 ran five calls a shift. So those firefighters didn’t get a lot of sleep.”
When Zwerg’s crew remodeled Station 18, they kept the existing four captain’s dorms, which already were set up as fully enclosed dorms. “The firefighters’ dorms were set up as four pods of four beds each with a drywall partition that extended up five feet,” Zwerg says. “We pulled the hallway side drywall off, pulled off the wood cap, extended the walls four inches above the ceiling tile, insulated with a compressed shredded denim, put the drywall back, redid the electrical for each dorm light, reconfigured HVAC (heating ventilating and air conditioning) supply and return air locations, and relocated and added sprinkler heads.”
Zwerg notes that it took about four months to complete the renovation at Station 18 because the house is so busy. “We had to do it in four phases,” he says. “Besides, we had to give the contractor room to work and also store equipment and supplies.” He points out that the department is using Station 18 as a model for other station renovations to address the sleep-deprivation issue. “While every station is unique, we are trying to keep the same general floor plan, material selections, and paint colors so that when firefighters are assigned to a different station, there’s a similarity and sense of continuity to the place,” Zwerg says.
The department also renovated Station 8 in downtown Phoenix, a station similar in size to Station 18, but on a single story. Station 8 has five apparatus bays and houses an engine, heavy rescue, an aerial ladder, ambulance, and hazardous materials truck. “Before each renovation, we meet with the crews and find out what they like and don’t like at their station, and then design around those needs,” Zwerg says. “At Station 8, the four captains wanted to bunk with their crews, so we removed all the dorm partitions, created a new central hall with five dorms and four firefighters per pod with the captain in the back. The dorms are completely rebuilt, fully enclosed, and well-insulated.”
Station 1, downtown at 4th Avenue and Van Buren Road, used the same floor plan as Station 18 for its renovation, Zwerg notes. “It’s the same size two-story station that has Engine 1 and Engine 2, a ladder, a ladder tender, and a utility truck in four bays,” he says. “Engine 1 runs 516 calls annually, Engine 2 runs 488 calls, and Ladder 1 and the tender 588 calls.”
Zwerg adds that an additional weapon that Phoenix Fire uses in helping firefighters get more sleep is the US Digital Designs Phoenix G2 Alerting System. “With this system, you can tell a dorm remote who you are and what truck you’re on,” he says. “There are no group tones to the entire dorm. Instead, the system gives individual alerts to the specific response rig for the call. It helps a lot with sleep-deprivation issues because it lets the non-involved company or companies get some sleep, which is especially important at multi-company stations.”
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.