Improving the Health & Safety of all Emergency Responders

Submissions for the 2019 Station Design Awards make it clear that fire chiefs and risk managers are responding to concerns about firefighter health and safety.

September 23, 2019
FIREHOUSE  Home Stations Station Design Trends Addressing Health, Safety

It’s not your father’s fire station anymore. No more sitting in front of open bay doors, bunker coats hanging next to the trucks, exhaust fumes filling the air, and no more exercising behind the rigs. While the crews still gather around the kitchen table, the security, safety and health of firefighters is becoming the priority in fire stations today.

Of the 54 entries submitted for the 2019 Firehouse Station Design Awards, it was apparent fire chiefs and risk managers are responding to concerns about health and safety for fire and EMS personnel in fire stations. Not only from the research on the increases in firefighter/EMS cancers from exposure to carcinogens, but the recent Firefighter Behavioral Health Symposium in Denver earlier this month covered issues of isolation and reduction of stress for first responders.

The seven judges for the 2019 Station Design Awards included four architects, two fire officers/architects and a fire chief experienced in renovations and new builds. Before the judging began, we asked what they looked for as they went through the entries in each category.

The first architect said fitting into the neighborhood was important. “Is this station being ‘foisted’ on the community or is it something that fits in the community?” he asked. Another judge chimed in, “If it’s important to be part of the neighborhood, then show us [pictures] your neighborhood, instead of the back of the building.”

Another judge said he tries to determine, “What did you overcome in your project?” Did it have a difficult or unique site location? Was there community resistance or support? Was budget an issue or not? If a renovation, was the new facility respectful of its history?

Continuing to be the number one issue that all judges agreed on for all stations is how they addressed exhaust capture in the apparatus bays. Having at least one exhaust system in the apparatus bay was important to all judges, but some felt two options were necessary.

Judges recognized Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Station No. 45 in Snowmass Village, CO, for its bays being “negatively pressurized to prevent exhaust and carbon monoxide from entering the other areas of the building” and containing “a vehicle exhaust capture system in addition to a ventilation system connected to both CO & NO2 sensors.”

Even with direct-capture systems, judges discussed the importance for comprehensive air quality in the bays, and which then led to the need for airlocks between two doors to and from the apparatus bays. In one station, the kitchen opened with no doors to the apparatus bays, and in another, the dayroom opened to the apparatus bays.

Another important area for judges—and requested on each project data sheet—is whether the station has fire sprinklers. In fact, sprinklers were included in all but a few stations. Interesting, three finalists had the sprinkler heads ‘removed’ from the photos by photographers. Phone calls to the architects quickly brought original photos showing the sprinkler heads in place! Seriously? Don’t photo shop-out sprinkler heads!

Over the past several years we’ve seen sleeping areas move from open dorms to shared rooms to single occupant rooms. One entry in Elk Grove Village was recognized for a row of single occupant rooms with six foot walls, acoustic EGV walls, but open to the ceiling. The discussion on the trend of materials on the walls to help with acoustics in sleeping areas was suggested as a trend worth watching for noise abatement. Single bathrooms (or “all gender”) continued to be popular options for many stations.

Speaking of noise abatement, a couple judges prefer lockers in the hallways versus the pass-through lockers because of the noise and the loss of a firewall in the station. One entry, Spring, TX, Fire Station No. 75, shows lockers located inside the sleeping room.

I predict that besides the need for more natural lighting, reducing noise will soon be on the radar as another way to reduce stressors.

The fire service has come such a long way in the past 20 years when it comes to fire station designs. From the introduction of designated exercise rooms in 2000, to fire sprinklers and exhaust systems in apparatus bays to the most recent introduction of circadian lighting and the most effective colors for walls specific areas of fire stations, fire stations certainly have come a long way!

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