BRW Fire Station Design


Proper Site Selection Sets the Stage for Success

When building a new fire station, the first step is choosing a site. A well-chosen site that provides adequate room, is optimally located, and includes natural environmental advantages can set the stage for success. On the other hand, poor site selection can lead to detrimental and costly negative effects that can hinder the station permanently.

This issue of Design on Fire is the first in a three-part series examining the elements of proper site selection.


First, establish a pre-site study to ensure that the future fire station does its job, chiefly by improving response time, distance and load. A main indicator of areas that need better coverage is the area’s ISO, or Insurance Services Office, rating. Based on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 1 being the best), the ISO rating takes into account three primary areas: fire department, city water main/hydrant capabilities, and 9-1-1 dispatch.

The rating of an area has a direct effect on the insurance premiums that individuals pay on their homes, and it especially affects commercial buildings.


Knowing the station’s purpose and the number and type of apparatus it will house can narrow the field of possible sites. First, identify the purpose of the station. Will it be a main station, satellite, or an expansion or renovation? Then determine the number and type of apparatus the facility will house. With that information in hand, apparatus layout can begin.  Apparatus bay design determines how the vehicles initially respond to calls and is specialized according to the culture of each department. Bays have a multitude of options and should address questions such as:

  • Pull-through or back-in?
  • Single-depth or double deep?
  • Stacking back-to-back or nose-to-back?
  • Length of bays?
  • Number of bays?


Next, review the surroundings of the potential site. Fire stations are generally much easier to place in commercial areas than in neighborhoods. Some neighbors can create resistance because of the “disruptive” nature of a fire station. Be proactive in thinking of solutions to create a visual asset to any setting, especially in residential neighborhoods. Every community has its CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) people, but be prepared for legitimate concerns about the future fire station’s neighbors.

Also, understand the property’s restrictions and play by the rules. Such “invisible” characteristics associated with a property can reduce the functionality of the site. Some things to consider:

  • Local codes and ordinances
  • Building setbacks, which vary between zones
  • Easements
  • Height restrictions
  • Landscaping requirements

Building a fire station takes a considerable amount of time, effort, patience and, yes, money. Finding the optimum site is a worthwhile investment toward your long-term goal of getting the most fire station for your money.

Future editions of Design on Fire will examine the logistics of choosing a site and offer “10 Site Selection Rules of Thumb.”


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