BRW Fire Station Design



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.”



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