Motel as a fire station requires better planning

City leaders need to look for creative ways to build needed fire stations, even if that means incorporating retail or residential use into building

I've heard of firefighters living in trailers, modular homes, single-family dwellings, condominiums, apartments, tents, and even an aircraft hangar.

But this is the first time I've heard of a fire company living in a motel.

Generally, accommodations other than purpose-built fire stations are considered temporary quarters for firefighters, apparatus and equipment. In my experience, however, the word "temporary" can mean different things to different people.

There was a time in American history when a new fire station was considered a source of pride for the entire community and a cause for celebration. While that remains true in many places, the cost of building a new station, especially in light of the Great Recession and continued economic recovery, has undoubtedly slowed capital investment in many fire departments' facilities, apparatus and equipment.

For cash-strapped local governments faced with a series of unpalatable public policy alternatives, putting money into a fire station can be tough pill to swallow.

Although I don't know the details of the situation described in this story, I've seen fire departments do a number of things to help justify needed capital investment. One example is conducting and regularly updating station location and resource deployment studies using current data, and accounting for potential future changes in the built environment.

While combining fire, EMS and law enforcement facilities is nothing new, some departments are considering, or implementing, other types of shared facilities including combining a fire station with affordable or market-rate housing, general government office space, schools, community colleges, retail space, and healthcare facilities. This can be a particularly useful approach in areas where available land is at a premium.

Whatever the cost, justification and ultimate configuration, it still seems important to do everything possible to help the neighbors feel connected to their local fire station. Some departments include community rooms, public art, pocket parks, or other public amenities in their station designs. Others conduct regular open houses, host block parties, or otherwise participate in neighborhood life.

Stay safe.

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