BRW Fire Station Design

Station Design

Pearland Fire Station No. 3 Ground Breaking

Ground Breaking 6-16-2014

Last week, Ray Holliday and Lisa Andel from our College Station studio participated in the ground breaking for Pearland Fire Station No. 3 alongside: the General Contractor, Crain Group; Pearland Mayor, Tom Reid; and City Manager, Clay Pearson.  Construction has commenced on the new 10,726 square foot station which is located on the corner of Yost Blvd. and Broadway St. adjacent to the existing EMS station.  The new station will accommodate both Fire and EMS as the department transitions from volunteer to a career fire department and the two emergency entities have now merged.  The existing EMS station that is currently located in a converted house on the same site as the new station will remain functional throughout construction.  The new Fire Station #3 will accommodate 10 full-time fire fighters and is expected to be open and operational by April 2015, after which the existing EMS station will be demolished.

Photo Courtesy of City of Pearland


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The Willowfork Fire Department recently welcomed its newest station in Cinco Ranch with the opening of Willowfork Fire Station No. 2. Grand Opening festivities were held Sunday, June 23, and included an open house, activities for kids, refreshments and a presentation of colors by Boy Scout Troop 548. Designed by Ray Holliday, AIA, Lisa Andel and Nicole Story of BRW Architects, this station is more than 13,000 sq. ft. and includes three 65 ft. pull-through bays, living quarters, a full kitchen and a classic red brick structure featuring an illuminated Texas star.  The Willowfork Fire Department is operated by the Fort Bend County Emergency Service District No. 2.





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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.


Please check out two new fire stations just posted on the BRW website!

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Georgetown Fire and Training No. 5

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Miguel Roldán, of Roldán+Berengué, Arqts, is the director of the Barcelona Architecture Center  in Barcelona, Spain as well as a graduate level visiting professor who taught at Texas A&M University College of Architecture this spring.  Intrigued by the differences between American and European architecture, he recently visited College Station’s newly constructed Fire Station No. 6.  Before his departure in May, BRW  Studio Director, Ray Holliday took him on a detailed tour of the 25,000 square foot station.

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Miguel was impressed by the intricate detail and “American” design. The Station’s striking appearance, the overall intent of the fire house and the size of the fire trucks all made for an enjoyable experience. After the tour the two architects talked about their differing design strategies and the effect of culture on their practice.

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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.



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.



BRW was recently published in Texas Fire Chief Magazine.  Click here to read the first article  in a three part series entitled: “Form Follows Function in Fire House Design”.  The series was written by Ray Holliday, AIA, ASLA, LI (BRW’s College Station Studio Director), Nicole Story and Diane Jones. This month’s topic is Site Selection. Stay tuned for future articles “Collaborating with the Community” and “Fire Department Philosophies”. To view a PDF version of the article, click here.


On Wednesday, October 10th, 2012, the City of Georgetown and Georgetown Fire Department celebrated the dedication and grand opening of the new Fire Station No. 5 and Fire Training Facility. The ceremony opened and closed with music from the Georgetown Fire Department Pipes and Drums Band. Fire Chief Robert Fite and Mayor George Garver spoke at the event, thanking everyone involved in making the project a reality. Chief Fite encouraged the citizens to explore every last corner of the facility and truly appreciate what their tax dollars made possible.  Following the speeches was the traditional “hose uncoupling” in lieu of a ribbon cutting, after which firefighters pushed Engine No. 5 into the apparatus bay.  At the conclusion of the ceremony, attendees were free to tour the entire facility and enjoy breathtaking views from the 4th story of the new training tower.

BRW incorporated traditional Texas hill country elements into the design of station 5, such as white limestone, stained siding, and a covered front porch.  At the same time, the massing and roof forms of the building give it a contemporary and unique look that will easily complement the new public safety complex adjacent to the site, which is currently in design. The distinctive red bay doors and red windows give the building an unmistakable fire house character.

The entire complex consists of the new 12,137 square foot fire station, a 2,838 square foot training classroom building, and a four story training tower and burn building. The station includes three truck bays with support spaces, sleeping spaces for ten featuring suites for captain and lieutenant, and common spaces such as a kitchen, day room and exercise room. Station 5 currently houses fire administration offices which will move to the new public safety building once completed, allowing future expansion of the station’s personnel and capabilities. Behind the station is the training classroom building with a large indoor/outdoor classroom and three garage bays for boat and trailer storage. Adjacent to the classroom building stands the training tower and burn building, which offers a variety of training scenarios for live-fire training and technical rescue instruction. Neighboring fire departments are already lining up to utilize the new training facilities.



September 11, 2012 was a bittersweet day on South Padre Island. As the city remembered the fire fighters and other fallen heroes of the World Trade Center attacks, they also gathered at 106 West Retama Street to dedicate their new central fire station. The 20,000 square foot building was the long-awaited replacement for the old fire station that had been badly damaged by Hurricane Dolly in 2008.

Hose decoupling in lieu of ribbon cutting

State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. spoke at the dedication. American and Texas flags were raised for the first time on the station’s flagpole then slowly lowered to half-mast. A steel beam that had been removed from the World Trade Center rubble was on permanent display in the public plaza in front of the station. Chief Burney Baskett said that the beam will be a reminder of “the deadliest day in the history of the United States Fire Service”.

The distinctive form of the three-story building reflects the need for the emergency operations center (EOC) to remain high off the ground and functional during harsh weather conditions as well as the demand for a compact building footprint due to high property values. BRW aimed to provide a building that neither compromised on durability nor stood out as a bunker among the festive buildings on the island. That goal was achieved by a two-part solution. First, a cast-in-place concrete structure with reinforced concrete block infill was designed to provide a tough exterior shell. Second, the upper floors were clad with a warm wood-composite rainscreen system which, during a storm, will equalize air pressure and obstruct driving rain.



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.


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.”



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