Eighty percent of the fire departments in the United States serve communities of less than 10,000 people, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). One-quarter of the fire stations in these smaller departments—the buildings that house fire trucks, equipment, and personnel—are at least 40 years old. At that age, these structures “are more likely to have problems that cannot be addressed through repair and maintenance alone,” the NFPA observes.
Zoned for Health
When designing a rural fire station, it needs to protect apparatus and its contents against weather and other exposure damage. The building also needs to protect the firefighters.
Cancer and other illnesses occur at much higher rates among firefighters—including volunteers—than in the community at large. In modern fires, much of the smoke comes from manufactured materials that are full of carcinogens. Responders might also be exposed to bodily fluids and infectious diseases in the course of rescue operations.
Decontamination procedures differ by department, but new fire stations commonly include a separate room with sinks and hand showers for gear decontamination. Along with the apparatus bays, these are “hot zones” where contaminants linger.
Firefighters need to decontaminate themselves, too. Members should have the opportunity to shower, change, and launder their clothes at the station. Otherwise, they’ll carry the contaminants home to their families. If bunker gear stays in the station, it should be stored in another dedicated room after cleaning.
A “transition zone” of hallways with self-closing doors and well-sealed walls should separate the contaminated hot zone and the clean “cold zone.” The cold zone includes spaces such as offices and a day room, kitchen, and training room. Hot and cold zones need separate HVAC systems. Both zones should also have toilets to minimize moving between zones. (Note that fire departments are not exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act. Not even most volunteer departments are.)
Further Measures in Apparatus Bays
Apparatus bays put a roof over a department’s most expensive possessions. But they’re more complex than just a roof and four walls.
Vehicle exhaust extraction systems
NFPA 1500, the standard on firefighter health and safety, mandates the protection of firefighters from the carcinogens in diesel exhaust. Yet half the fire stations in rural stations lack a method for doing so. It’s not enough to open the apparatus bay doors before turning the ignition. Nor do the greenhouse-gas filters built into the apparatus do the job. Departments can choose from three types of vehicle exhaust extraction systems to install. One attaches a hose to the vehicle’s exhaust pipe and vents to the outside air via fans and ductwork. Another adds a filtration system to the apparatus and filters the air right there. A third type uses ceiling fans to force the apparatus bay’s air through various filters. Each system has pros and cons that vary in how well they fit a given department’s needs.
Doors, floors, and more
Other suggestions for the complex apparatus bay environment have included these:
- Consider folding instead of overhead doors to keep the doors fully in sight while opening. Apparatus hitting a door can damage both.
- Use radiant heat, which warms surfaces and objects. These will rewarm the air quickly after the doors close on a cold day.
- Minimize floor slipperiness. Position a trench under each apparatus rather than putting drains between them. Park level over the trench, not tilting toward it. A tilt could eventually affect the vehicle’s handling on the road.
Consider Building with Steel
Building with red-iron steel offers many advantages to rural fire departments.
- The construction process is economical because of the small construction team and shorter time to completion.
- Steel buildings stand up to high winds and earthquakes better than other types of construction.
- Steel resists insects and rot. Rust is possible, but not for the red-iron steel structural members or the pre-painted roof and exterior walls.
- Steel buildings are highly adaptable. A cash-strapped department with no tax base might want to build just the essentials now. It can easily add on training rooms and bunks later if the needs change.
At Peak Steel, we can manage the entire construction process when designing a rural fire station. Call on us to be part of your planning team.