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Accessibility requirements for fire station renovation or new construction changed significantly when the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation’s (TDLR) 2012 Texas Accessibility Standards (TAS) became effective on March 15th of this year.  While Texas standards have always adopted federal ADA requirements, previous versions have included exemptions from some accessibility requirements for fire fighter (employee) only spaces.  The previous exemptions are not included in the current 2012 TAS.  As with most building code and accessibility requirements, the new requirements are not retroactive and only apply to new or altered facilities.

A summary of 2012 TAS requirements for fire stations follows:

  • An accessible path must connect public transportation and parking to the building entry, public-use spaces and restrooms.
  • Public spaces include lobbies, public restrooms, treatment rooms, training/meeting rooms, kitchens, dining rooms, day rooms, and office areas.
  • At least one bedroom and one restroom must be fully accessible.  Per TDLR: “crew quarters (bedrooms) that are used exclusively as a residence by emergency response personnel and the kitchens and bathrooms exclusively serving those quarters must also comply with TAS residential dwelling standards.”
  • The remaining bedrooms and restrooms, along with spaces used exclusively by fire fighters, like the Apparatus Bay or support spaces, must merely be adaptable.  This means they must comply with TAS requirements for approach, entry, exit and maneuvering, but all the accessibility equipment, like grab bars, is not required.

The biggest impact from the 2012 TAS involves the kitchen, due to the following requirements:

  • Clearance between all opposing base cabinets, countertops, appliances or walls within kitchen work areas shall be 60” minimum.  This means a u-shaped kitchen with a center islands requires a 60” clearance around three sides.
  • At least one 30” wide and 34″ high section of counter with knee space below must be adjacent to the oven (typical counter tops are 36″ high).  For combination range/ oven units with a parallel approach,  the knee clearance requirement does not apply.
  • At least 50% of the storage in the kitchens and pantries should be base cabinets or open shelving complying with clear floor space and accessible reach requirements.  This may inflate enclosed kitchen pantries beyond a reasonable size to accommodate a 5-foot wheelchair turning radius, especially if a refrigerator is inside.
  • One kitchen sink must have a knee space below allowing a maximum 5″ deep basin.  This typically means a second deeper sink is installed for dish and pot washing.
  • Combination refrigerators and freezers shall have at least 50% of the freezer space below 54”.  Side-by-side or bottom-freezer refrigerators satisfy this requirement best.
  • Clear floor space is required adjacent to the dishwasher door with no obstruction from the open door.
  • Appliance controls require one hand operation with no tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist more than a 5 lb. maximum force to activate.

At least one bedroom must be accessible, meaning that a 5-foot wheelchair turning radius, along with proper floor clearance and reach ranges are required at wardrobe units and exit windows.

At least one fire fighter bathroom and one of each type of plumbing fixture must also be accessible and comply with the following requirements:

  • A 60” x 56” minimum floor clearance is provided at water closets.
  • Lavatories must be a maximum 34” high and have knee clearance.
  • Shower compartments must be a minimum 36” x 36” with a 36″ by 48″ adjacent floor space.
  • Shower spray heads must be a hand-held type.
  • Showers shall have a maximum 1/2” high threshold.
  • Grab bars at water closets and showers, along with seats at showers are not required, provided reinforcing is installed in walls.

TAS (and ADA) doesn’t require non-occupied spaces, such as mechanical/electrical rooms, elevator pits, equipment rooms, crawl spaces and catwalks to be accessible.  Storage spaces, such as closets and janitor rooms, may or may not need to be accessible, depending on their size.  Storage spaces used by non-fire fighting personnel must be accessible.

Another significant impact from the 2012 TAS is that two-story fire stations now require an elevator, even if only used by fire personnel.  A second floor will typically also require two exit stairs per the building code.

Other important design considerations may include:

  • Accessible parking must be located on the shortest accessible route to the building entry.
  • Exterior accessible routes (sidewalks) may not exceed 5 percent slope in the path of travel with a maximum 2 percent slope across the width of the travel path.  If the slope exceeds 5 percent, it is considered a ramp and requires handrails on both sides and level landings at the top and bottom.
  • Interior accessible paths (corridors) require a minimum 36-inch clearance width, but may be reduced to 32 inches for doorways without doors or cased openings as long as restrictions are no more than 2 feet in length.
  • A wheelchair requires either a 5-foot turning radius or a “T” shaped turn-around.
  • Doors typically require an 18-inch adjacent clearance to the pull side of the knob and 12 inches of clearance on the push side.

For a more in-depth discussion specific to your situation, please send Gary DeVries an email at

POSTED BY: Gary DeVries


In over a decade of experience in designing fire stations, BRW Architects has found that a methodical  process for planning, design and documentation greatly improves the collaborative effort and reduces the likelihood of budget overruns.

Step 1 – Visioning and Programming

A vital first step for all project stakeholders is reaching consensus on 3 to 5 prioritized goals for the project.  If a priority for the fire station is an EOC, for instance, then that room’s structural integrity will be a cost consideration.  Another important cost factor in an early budget strategy may be whether the building will emphasize energy efficiency and environmental standards coupled with the goal of LEED certification.

Stakeholders must be aware that project goals or priorities can shift during design, but these revised goals can conflict with fundamental early design decisions such as building siting, structural systems, or material assemblies, and have a significant impact on the budget.  This is especially true with building renovation and additions, as it is always difficult to know where to stop with renovation.

To properly evaluate existing buildings, an Existing Condition Assessment should separate the project scope into three categories: 1) deferred maintenance, physical condition, and code improvements, 2) operational improvements, and 3) aesthetic improvements.  The next step is to prioritize these scope categories and align them with the budget accordingly.  The overall goal should be to find the best value.  It only makes sense, for example, to spend money making the building watertight before renovating its interior.  Another priority, however, might be exterior design, where aesthetic improvements for the benefit of the community may demand a potion of the budget regardless of other needs.  The final step in defining project scope is going through a detailed Programming Process, which translates operational needs into appropriate building space and site requirements.

Step 2 – Budget Analysis

While developing the Program, a parallel task is developing a Budget Analysis that breaks down the owner’s total project cost into 1) construction cost, 2) owner’s development costs (such as materials testing, utility company costs, separate contracts like voice and data wiring, furniture and equipment), and 3) professional fees.

Two important budget items – not discussed often enough – are contingencies and cost escalation.  Most owners agree that a small contingency fund built into the construction contract helps accommodate small unforeseen conditions.  But another contingency fund should also be held outside the construction contract to cover larger unforeseen issues, if any, as well as to fund added scope desired during construction.  It is not uncommon for stakeholders to develop greater insight into their needs as a building project progresses or if a contingency is unused at project completion, it often becomes useful to fund amenities as extra furniture.  Today’s construction economy and the cost escalation of labor and materials is also one of the hardest cost factors to predict.  A common approach to this factor is to anticipate cost escalation from the present through the mid-point of construction, when the contractor has completed the subcontractor buy-out.

Pre-planning is also the time to discuss the most appropriate construction contracting method.  But whether a lump sum or cost plus a negotiated fee contract attained through a Competitive Sealed Proposal, Construction Manager at Risk or Design Build method, it is important to identify the responsibility for cost estimating and a process to re-align project scope as necessary.  This especially true when the contractor is under contract during building design phases, when all team players should  participate in the scope-to-budget alignment process.

Step 3 – Applying BRW Historic Fire Station Construction Cost

Upon completion of the Budget Analysis, BRW will use their in-house Historic Fire Station Construction Costs database to prepare the first cost estimate.  This is the time to consider cost impacts of site development and foundation design.  If the geotechnical survey is complete, the difference in costs between a slab-on-grade foundation and a structured slab on carton forms can be significant.

Among site development issues to consider is cost created by distance to utilities such as water, sewer, electrical power, and natural gas.  Fire station sites located in residential neighborhoods may face issues in accessing electricity: either a lack of 3-phase power or, if power lines are too low for apparatus to drive under, the utility company will charge a fee to modify service.  Another cost may be zoning ordinance requirements for buffering the station from an adjacent residential property or restrictions on architectural facade materials.  Another substantial pricing factor depends entirely on the project’s location: in hurricane prone areas or where a tornado resistant room is desired, structural design to resist these wind loads will add cost.

A very important consideration, before starting design, is choosing the building’s structural framing system.  Fire station structural frames can be as diverse as tilt-wall concrete, pre-engineered metal, structural steel, load-bearing masonry, light-gauge steel, or wood framing.  Each choice has different attributes and costs, and this initial decision will impact exterior appearance and even the building’s floor plan, because of differences in required column placement, structural bay sizes and wall thicknesses.

With the program and initial decisions on site development complete, the first construction cost estimate relies on a historic square foot construction costs to see if the gross building is on target with the budget.

Step 4 – Concept Design SF Cost Estimate

With the start of concept design, the site plan, floor plan and building massing begin to form.  More detailed cost-related discussions of this stage in design may include: landscaping ordinance requirements; building code requirements, such as occupancy or area separation walls; exterior image and building materials; Apparatus Bay door types (overhead vs. 4-fold); or roofing assemblies.  This is also a good time to discuss the benefit of creating bid alternates to allow flexibility on bid day.  The goal is to achieve an awardable base bid, with the flexibility to maximize the budget by selecting separately bid alternates.  The best scope for bid alternates is when they involve one or just a few trades, for example, a metal roof is a good bid alternate to asphalt shingles.  As the concept design forms, the next cost estimate will still be based on square foot cost, but now be anchored on a concept floor plan and preliminary site layout.  This is a critical time to make any major realignment of the project scope and budget, if necessary, before Schematic Design begins.

Step 5 – Schematic Design First Quantity Take-off Cost Estimate

The Schematic Design (SD) phase usually involves more engineering, including civil grading and site utilities, structural foundations and framing, and mechanical / electrical systems.  At this time many building products and materials assemblies are considered for life span, performance, energy and water efficiency, appearance, code compliance, and cost.  The cost estimate created during SD will be the first quantity take-off estimate, where all major components are measured in linear feet, square feet, or cubic yards and multiplied by a unit cost.  Once again, the cost estimate is reviewed and the project scope is evaluated against the construction budget.

Step 6 – Design Development Cost Estimate with Engineering Systems

The Design Development (DD) phase typically involves final selection and approval of all materials and building systems.  The DD cost estimate is a refinement of the SD estimate, with more detail.  It is the final validation of the project scope before construction documents (CDs) begin.

Step 7 – Construction Document Final Cost Estimate

The challenge with preparing CDs, as related to construction cost, is to not allow “scope creep” into the construction documents.  At this stage, owners and designers will inevitably think of small project enhancements, and this is fine, as long as the overall construction cost is carefully monitored.  A 95% cost estimate is the final check before bidding or pricing and this is the time to finalize bid alternates.


BRW Architects will be attending the Southwest Fire Rescue 2012 Conference on March 10, 2012 through March 15, 2012 at the Embassy Suites and Convention Center in Frisco, Texas.  

The Texas Fire Chiefs Association, the Texas Association of Fire Educators, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs come together at the Southwest Convention for a week long series of classes for those in the Fire Rescue industry.

BRW is delighted to sponsor the first annual reception for the Texas Fire Chiefs Academy graduates on Monday night at 5:15.

BRW Architects will also be present in booth 211 in the exhibit hall on Sunday and Monday, March 11-12th.  For more information visit SW Fire Rescue.


For the last decade, governmental entities building fire stations have been able to choose from several different methods to award contracts.  While the many options offers some amount of flexibility, we have found that fire chiefs and city managers are primarily concerned with one issue: which method provides the most station for the money?

While different methods have their pros and cons, we have found–after working with more than 60 different fire departments–that the two methods which generally offer the best value to our clients are Construction Manager at Risk and Competitive Sealed Proposals.  Other methods to consider may include Design Build, Construction Manager Agent, Job Order Contracting (typically for repair and minor renovation) and Competitive Bidding (without consideration of qualifications).


Under the Competitive Sealed Proposals method, contracts are awarded based on which contractor’s proposal offers the “best value,” rather than simply the lowest price. In addition to cost, the request for proposal may require a variety of qualifications, including the construction firm’s history, relevant projects, project personnel and their resumes, schedules, and a financial statement.  The proposal evaluation criteria must be published with the Instruction to Proposers and are typically weighted by the various criteria.

In many cases, contractor expertise may outweigh the price when ranking responses. This approach is best used in a slow economy to take advantage of the competitive bidding environment, coupled with the ability to select the most qualified contractor.

The chief advantage of the CSP method is the ability to negotiate project scope and cost with the “best value” proposer.  If an agreement is not reached with the first selected proposer, negotiations are suspended and re-started with the second selected proposer and so on.  The main disadvantage is that the cost of the actual project isn’t known until the proposals are submitted.  But with careful cost estimating throughout the design phases by a design team with recent fire station experience, the issue of overbidding is minimized.


Under CMAR, the construction manager is typically selected at the same time as the architect. The benefit of this approach is that, as the architect is designing, the contractor is simultaneously reviewing the project for constructability and preparing cost estimates and schedules – all with an eye to keeping the project on budget and on schedule.

In an inflationary economy when the cost of building materials are volatile, it’s wise to have a contractor on board early so that they can, in concert with subcontractors, keep tabs on market fluctuations and prevent a short-term supply shortages from turning into massive cost overruns or missed deadlines.

One of the chief advantages of CMAR is that final pricing by subcontractors to establish or confirm the GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price) should match previous CMAR pricing, thus reducing the anxiety of unknown cost on bid day.  (This approach is best used in a growing economy with inflation.)  The GMP may be set at the completion of the Design Development phase or midway through construction documents to “lock in” escalating cost, but this approach usually requires contingencies to cover undesigned elements and requires collaboration between the CMAR and design team to complete the documents within the set budget.

An occasional negative issue with this contracting approach is when the CMAR is too cautious in their early estimates and the deign team reduces the gross building area, it can be quite difficult to add gross area back in, if the project underbids. This risk can be combated by making good decisions early and sticking to them, while discussing realistic contingencies for project scope that isn’t designed.

Because of fluctuations in the economy, there is no one method that will work at all times for all projects.  We encourage fire chiefs to be involved in early discussions to examine the pros, cons, and nuances of the various construction delivery methods.

For a more in-depth discussion specific to your situation, please drop Gary DeVries and Ray Holliday a line at


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.”



Next to cost, sustainability is a growing concern of many Texas municipalities when building fire stations. Not only do governments want to reduce their energy and water utility costs, but they also want to be seen as leaders in constructing more environmentally friendly buildings.

This is indeed a worthy motivation, and Brown Reynolds Watford Architects, Inc. is committed to helping our clients make environmentally responsible choices. We evaluate environmental performance from a “whole building” perspective and define a standard for what constitutes a “green” building.  Whether or not a client chooses to pursue the U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, BRW provides the same technical and interpretive assistance to develop the project’s full potential, allowing for innovative systems to count towards certification.

Sustainable design, however, isn’t without risk. Because so much of the technology being used is relatively untested (with only a handful of years, as opposed to decades of success behind it), it’s impossible to know for sure if the sustainably harvested wood, high-tech concrete, or cutting-edge HVAC system will deliver the same results their less “green” but more time-tested counterparts do. Very often, the “green” alternative is initially more expensive than the traditional approach, and many clients are unwilling to invest, not knowing whether it will pay off in the long run.

As more and more companies produce sustainable oriented products, however, their cost is reducing and becoming more commonplace.  Low VOC paint with fewer odors, for instance, is very available at only a small premium over conventional paint, but greatly improves the indoor air quality.

In order to manage the risks of newly developed “green” products and higher initial costs, BRW sticks, first and foremost, to the basics. When we are designing a project, regardless of whether the client is seeking LEED certification, we have three steps to achieving the most efficient product:

  • First, build the most thermally insulated building you can. Insulation is relatively inexpensive and this will cut heating and cooling costs dramatically.
  • Second, install the most efficient mechanical system you can afford. Next to insulation, there is no doubt that investing in energy efficiency mechanical systems pays dividends almost immediately.
  • Third, collect rain water for reuse in irrigation systems and washing vehicles.  Collection systems can simply use rain barrels or be designed with more expensive tanks, pumps, water processing and automation systems. This has shown to provide significant “bang for the bucks” when it comes to sustainable options.
  • Only then look at more cutting-edge renewable energy and sustainable systems, like geothermal, photo-voltaic panels and wind turbines.

Admittedly, much of the technology behind today’s green building methods and products is untested. But so, at one time, was electricity. We can be sure that not every attempt at incorporating electricity was a success, but the early adopters’ enthusiasm and willingness to make an investment in an emerging technology paid off in the long run (as proven by the fact that you are reading this).

For better or worse, however, sustainable design isn’t a fad. It is an overdue acknowledgement that our planet can only provide a finite quantity of resources, and we as builders, designers, and building owners must do our best to conserve those resources.

An old Greek proverb says “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

We may not know the shade of every tree we are planting today. But we can be sure our grandchildren will appreciate that we’ve planted them.

For a more in-depth discussion specific to your situation, please drop Gary DeVries and Ray Holliday a line at