A successful fire station must satisfy a wide variety of functions – fire fighting vehicle and equipment maintenance and storage, administrative offices, training rooms, community education, hazardous materials storage, housing, and recreation, food preparation.
However, with the ranks of volunteer firefighters dwindling, one of the most important features of fire station design may be quality of life issues that attract new members and retain existing members.
Design elements that focus on quality of life issues for the fire fighter, individual sleeping quarters for example, are becoming increasingly important to maintaining unit strength and cohesiveness.
Fire stations are occupied 24 hours a day seven days a week. A spartan environment won’t attract new members or give current members much reason for staying on. Providing a comfortable environment for today’s firefighter is required. We aren’t talking about indulgent luxury items, nor are we talking about cots in the sleeping quarters.
It isn’t the expense that prevents departments from including design elements that will attract and retain membership, it’s the mindset. Firefighters are a hardy and independent group. Left to their own devices when suggesting design features for a new station, they will provide better for their equipment than for themselves. Taking care of equipment that your life depends on is not a flaw. However, it’s no reason to ignore the comfort and living conditions for the most important piece of equipment in any station-the firefighter.
The base line for the residential area of a fire station is to provide each firefighter with a comfortable living environment-room to sleep, work, and store personal items. In the dorm areas, if the budget permits, each fire fighter should have separate sleeping quarters. It does make sense to share living space between shifts so that the room always has an assigned occupant in the building. When sharing rooms between shifts, a secure locker for each fighter assigned to the room must be provided. A bed, nightstand, and desk can be shared by the assigned members on each shift. The desk should offer the same amount of drawer space for each shift.
Ban those drab institutional greys and beige color schemes from the living, and community areas such as the TV lounge and day room. You can, and perhaps should, use institutional colors and finishes throughout the equipment bay and storage areas. But as for the living areas, if you wouldn’t paint your own living room in battleship grey, don’t use battleship grey for the department’s common rooms and community spaces. And if you would use battleship grey at home, put someone else in charge of the color scheme for your station.
Plenty of natural light is a cost-effective way to brighten a fire station’s living and work spaces. Those living and work areas need to be generous and the access points throughout the building must facilitate quick transitions from the living spaces to the turn out.
It’s a good idea to separate the noisy game room from the bunks and dorm rooms. And considering the amount of training today’s firefighters must complete, why not provide a study area? A few bookcases with course materials, a Wi-Fi internet connection, and reading lamps, transforms a conference room to a study/library for relatively little cost.
Day rooms are often forced to accommodate kitchen, dining and recreation functions. Certainly the kitchen and dining functions are easily combined. The recreation function in that space is usually a secondary function that is better off in a separate area. Consider swapping one conference room or meeting space for a recreation area. The dining area easily converts to meeting or training space when flexibility is needed.
What to put in that ‘extra’ recreational space? How about a fitness room? Features such as a fitness room will appeal to many potential and existing members and do not have to be fully furnished from day one. Departments can start with relatively inexpensive free weights set and mats and build up from there with donations or fund-raising efforts.
Design features can attract and retain membership if:
- They Focus on the Firefighters’ Quality of Life Issues
- Living Quarters Provide Privacy for Each Firefighter on Each Shift.
- Colors and Finishes Clearly Delineate Living and Common Areas from Work Areas
- Functions are Separated Logically
- Amenities are Provided: study area, Wi-Fi, Fitness Room…
By design, treat the firefighters’ environment as a way to retain and attract membership and you will create a welcoming comfortable home away from home for your team.