BRW Fire Station Design

Construction Trends


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BRW’s Ponderosa Fire Station No. 62 has a cameo appearance in the current issue of NZB magazine.  Click here to read about the Fiber Cement siding that is used on its exterior.


Main stair tower exterior view

Olé Decor magazine recently published an article about South Padre IslandFire Station 1. Click here and turn to page 37 to read about the Station and it’s Design.


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


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


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