BRW Fire Station Design

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The Right Materials are Key to Hurricane-Resistant Fire Stations

Firehouses occupy a unique place in our communities–a haven of safety and preparedness, even when disaster strikes. That’s why ensuring that fire stations can withstand common natural disasters is a vital issue for architects.

In parts of Texas, that means constructing firehouses to withstand hurricane-force winds. While no building can be designed to be “hurricane-proof,” they can be constructed to resist a hurricane with only minimal damage.

To that end, Brown Reynolds Watford Architects teamed up with the Texas A&M University colleges of Engineering and Architecture to develop new methods and technologies to build fire stations that can resist hurricane-force winds. We also adopted the Miami/Dade County Building Code, the most stringent of all hurricane codes, and made it effective for all projects designed in hurricane-prone areas.

The challenge, of course, is to build a hurricane-resistant building while staying within budget. In the past, designing a building to resist hurricane winds has added as much as 40 percent to the overall building cost, and some of these buildings still suffered major damage in a hurricane. The City of Victoria Fire Station #4 is one example of our achieving these goals through research and innovative construction methods.

Although concrete has traditionally been used to resist hurricane winds, the cost can be prohibitive and the appearance can look cold and unwelcoming. In Victoria, the use of concrete was limited to the apparatus bays, where reinforced concrete block was skinned in stone to give protection against projectiles hitting the walls, as well as giving it a more attractive appearance.

Steel is more cost effective than concrete, but in our analysis of other buildings, we found that the skins of metal buildings using panels were either not attached correctly or the gauge of the metal was not thick enough. In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, hundreds of metal buildings had their skin peeled off from the force of the winds, leaving their remaining steel structure exposed.

Rather than using the steel as a cladding material, BRW limited its use in Victoria to framing doors, large openings, and other architectural features such as the training tower. The apparatus bays are also equipped with steel roll-down doors that are installed in front of the everyday glass folding doors. These doors are only used in the event of a hurricane, limiting the negative aesthetic effects they might cause.

Although it seemed the least likely of the three materials, we found that wood construction can be the best in cost as well as one of the strongest in resisting wind loads. Also, the development of new technology, development of straps and fasteners, and the availability of wood gave it an advantage. The living quarters in the Victoria #4 station consist of 2” x 6” wood framing with metal straps at each stud that wrap over the top and bottom plates of all exterior walls. They also include three interior walls, in order to anchor the roof while experiencing uplift wind loads during a hurricane.

The fasteners are placed at very specific locations, which were carefully inspected during construction to ensure the construction documents were followed. The windows in the living quarters are each equipped with a hurricane panel, which is both cost effective and architecturally successful, as it is removable and only used in the event of a hurricane.

As architects, it is not only our responsibility to design captivating buildings to enhance the character of a neighborhood, but also to design safe structures that will withstand the effects of natural disasters.

POSTED BY: rayholliday


Why are fire trucks red?  One of the most widely cited explanations dates back to the 1850’s, stemming from a long standing competition between the fire brigades. The idea was that the rig could stand out by being the cleanest, having the most brass, and being the noble color red.  Red was the chosen color for the pumpers because it was the most expensive at the time.  In addition, red is a color that stands out and is easily recognized on the street.  Although there are a many available choices for fire vehicles today, there is no more instantly recognized fire engine color than red.


For the last two months, Design on Fire has addressed some of the primary considerations for selecting a site for your new fire station. In this issue, we’ll wrap it all up into some basic rules of thumb to remember as you assess your possible locations. (Click here to see our previous articles on site selection, Location, Location, Function and Site Selection Logistics.)

The perfect site is square or slightly rectangular. Request a survey of the property, including easements, setbacks, zoning districts and existing utility placement. A square site has many benefits, including proper building orientation and functionality. You’ll need about 1 acre for every 5,000 square feet of building, so a 10,000 square foot station will need a 2 acre piece of land.

There is no such thing as free property. If the “free” site will require costly improvements or environmental clean-up, any cost savings could be negated (or exceeded).

Site lines from the bay should encompass about 160 feet of street frontage. This number is variable according to the number of bays the station will require. The purpose of is to obtain visual confirmation of the critical intersection created by the bay apron and the public street. For areas that are highly congested a traffic study should be conducted to determine how to safely address exiting the fire station.

Bays should be set back 50 feet from the street to allow for the apparatus to pull completely in and out of the bay before negotiating a turn. This minimizes the damage risk to the building and the vehicles by providing the best case scenario for “launch”. As a secondary benefit a 50′-0″ front apron provides an area for washing, maintenance and training on the apparatus, without impeding the overhead doors.

Minimum turning radius is 50 feet for the outside and 30 feet for the inside. Compromising the turning radius creates a never-ending “hopping the curb” scenario or multi-point turn to get around the corner. This needless fatigue on the apparatus is a determent to the Fire Department’s investment in the apparatus.

Choose a side road as the main exit point for the fire station, to avoid busy intersections or fast-moving traffic. The less your drivers have to negotiate busy traffic while exiting and entering the station, the better.

Minimum drive width is 24 feet. At this width appropriate turning radii can be met, while allowing the apparatus enough room to navigate safely.

Exit points should be at least 100 feet from an intersection. Particularly if it is a busy intersection, you will want to stay clear of any possible back-ups that could slow response time.

Account for shift change when considering parking and allow for 3-5 visitor parking spots.

Keep the slope of drives under 8 percent to avoid apparatus scraping at dips or bumps. The alternative is either damaged apparatus or slower response times–and you don’t want either of those.

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. 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.

POSTED BY: rayholliday


Accentuate the positives, (try to) eliminate the negatives

Last month’s Design on Fire discussed some site selection basics to take into account when choosing a location for your new fire station. This month, we drill down a bit into some of the important characteristics to consider before you settle on a site.


Once you’ve determined what your new fire station requires in terms of size and meeting neighborhood needs, using the criteria we set out last month, it’s time to focus on available sites in your area and decide whether they offer the appropriate acreage and natural advantages. It may be possible to consolidate several parcels of land into one.

Be particularly cautious about buying an abandoned site or land previously used for industrial purposes (such as gas stations or landfills) because these sites have the potential for extra costs associated with pollution mitigation. A good real estate agent can help you determine the history of each potential site. You’ll also want to consider a site with the potential for future expansion.

Take a thorough history of your possible sites and be prepared for the unforeseen.


The natural attributes of the land can be an asset to your building, but they can also pose problems that could hinder the design or be quite costly to rectify. Consider the topography and how it could impact on your drainage, detention ponds, slope of drives, and retaining walls.

Soil can also play a costly role in construction. A soil analysis can tell you much about the foundation type and depth that will be needed, as well as the amount of concrete that will required in the foundation. This analysis can also reveal subsurface water, crevasse, or otherwise unforeseen features.

Some other environmental elements to take into account:

  • How to maximize natural sunlight while minimizing heat-gain.
  • How to utilize prevailing winds for cross ventilation.
  • How to use native and drought hardy landscaping to conserve water.
  • How to use materials found on or near the site.

Natural advantages are FREE advantages, so you’ll want to focus on sites with the most natural advantages.


Study the street access of each potential site, including possible entry and exit driveways. The site and surrounding properties can greatly affect the drive layout. Consider, for example, the surrounding traffic flow, medians, and pedestrian paths. A traffic impact analysis can help determine best case resolutions. Consider the route for the apparatus, public vs. private entries, and parking and security. TxDOT or local codes can govern certain aspects of the drives, such as minimum distance between curb cuts and maximum width of driveways.

Some important infrastructure points to consider:

  • Complete a traffic impact analysis comparative to response time.
  • Study the major streets and access routes for possible impediments or benefits.
  • Make note of the width of the streets.
  • Research the master plan of the area to identify any major future changes.

A careful analysis of the natural benefits (and impediments) of your potential sites can both provide free advantages to your future fire station and head off major headaches down the road.

Next month’s Design on Fire will offer  “10 Site Selection Rules of Thumb.”

POSTED BY: rayholliday