BRW Fire Station Design



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.



BRW principal, Gary DeVries, AIA and Studio Director, Ray Holliday, AIA  led a  Texas Fire Chiefs Academy  session on June 5th at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas. The 2 hour training session reviewed the basic process involved in designing and constructing  a fire station. Classes are held from June 3-8 and is sponsored by the Texas Fire Chiefs Association.

The Texas Fire Chiefs Academy is a comprehensive training program for current fire chiefs and those who aspire to be fire chiefs.


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


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.