BRW Fire Station Design

Site Considerations



BRW and the City of College Station celebrated the grand opening of Fire Station No. 6.  It’s not every day that we design a project in our own backyard, so you can imagine the excitement and pride we have had seeing this project come to life.  The City of College Station likes to “do it up right;” so the ceremony appropriately opened with a performance by the College Station Fire Department’s Pipes and Drums.  Instead of the standard ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mayor Nancy Berry responded to the “first call” and officially opened the building by sliding down the new fire pole and driving the fire engine straight through the ribbon.  The festivities then continued as the station’s personnel broke in their new kitchen and BBQ grill by cooking enough hot dogs and hamburgers for the entire community.  There is nothing like testing the equipment and their cooking skills the first day on the job.

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Station No. 6 is one of BRW’s largest fire stations to date.  Situated in the heart of Bryan/College Station, the new station will serve the University Drive corridor as well as the Texas A&M University campus.  The facility’s modern look was designed to fit within the surrounding commercial district while embracing the strict design criteria of the city.  Because the site was so restrictive, the large station sits very close to one of the most heavily trafficked roads in Bryan/College Station.   To help create a buffer in the small setback, BRW incorporated a “time line plaza,” water feature, and landscaping to soften the buildings presence at a pedestrian level.  A timeline of the department’s history was created by engraving the bricks of the plaza with the names of all past employees and volunteers.  Just inside the reminiscent hose tower, the station features a historical memorabilia area and a multi-purpose room which is most commonly used for departmental training, but it is also available for use by the community. The remainder of the first floor consists of: a report writing room that doubles as a backup 9-1-1 emergency dispatch center, administrative offices, a 14-person dayroom, a kitchen we would all want to have in our own home, a dining room, and weight room facilities.   Five 100 foot deep bays house the Fire apparatus, a Hazmat truck and trailer, EMS Vehicles, and water rescue units. The bays are flanked on each side by support spaces such as a decontamination room, Hazmat and EMS storage, and a Bunker room.  The second floor is primarily reserved for the private spaces of the fire personnel which include individual sleeping rooms, unisex bathrooms, a laundry room, and a study room that overlooks the apparatus bay.  The station is equipped with a state-of-the-art, customizable, alerting system that can be clearly heard throughout the facility. The system has features such as a timer that helps further motivate quick response time, coded LED lights to assist each crew with identifying their specific calls, and individual controls in each bedroom so that staff members will only be awakened when their crew is called.   Last, but not least, no fire station would be complete without a fire pole, so this large station appropriately has two.


As always, designing and constructing fire stations is an exciting process, filled with opportunities to grow and learn with each new project.  This project’s dynamic and cooperative team of architects, contractors, and clients worked well together to tackle issues as they arose resulting in an overall pleasurable experience.  Together, the project team made sure that the facility was not only finished on time, but also of the highest construction quality.  As exciting as it is to see this project complete, it is a little bitter sweet to say so-long to something that has consumed so many of my thoughts for the past several months.  Luckily for me, when I’m feeling nostalgic, all I have to do is simply drive by on my way home from work.

All photos courtesy of the City of College Station:  To see more click here.



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.


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


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.”