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How to buy a fire station security system

The days of never locking the door are gone; here’s how to harden your fire stations without looking like a fortress


A fire station represents one of the largest capital investments that any fire department and their community makes. Particularly for volunteer-staffed stations, the need to protect that investment from fire, burglary and vandalism is a real concern. Even stations that are staffed on a 24-hour basis need protection during those times when staff is out of quarters for whatever reason.

To start, every fire station should have, at a minimum, a fire detection system that’s monitored 24 hours per day by either the local dispatch center or a third-party monitoring service. Ideally, every fire station should be fully protected by a fire sprinkler system that’s also monitored 24 hours per day.

Every year finds several fire stations that have been destroyed by fires that went undetected because the station was unoccupied. Such fires also result in the total loss, or severe damage, to fire apparatus, along with equipment and supplies.

Modern alarm systems also guard against invisible hazards such as carbon monoxide and natural gas, both of which can pose a serious threat to life and property.

The security world uses physical security as the term to describe protective measures used to safeguard property, buildings and other physical facilities. Just as there are rings of security in information technology, there are also rings within physical security. Sans Technology Institute lays out these four rings.

  • Ring 1: Areas on the perimeter of the building.
  • Ring 2: Immediate area around the building.
  • Ring 3: Internal area of the building.
  • Ring 4: Human factor.

Prime targests

Fire stations represent an inviting target for burglary and vandalism because of the expensive equipment and supplies, both firefighting and non-firefighting in nature, located in the station. Those burglars are looking for items they can quickly turn into cash like turnout gear, SCBA, portable radios, power tools, electronics, lawn care equipment, etc.

There’s also the matter of personal vehicles parked at the station. The vehicles of volunteer personnel who’ve responded to their fire station to get the rigs out for an emergency response are a particularly inviting target for thieves; in their haste to get enroute to the call, volunteer firefighters may have forgotten to lock their vehicles.

Much like home or business security, there are systems that can be used for fire stations. Some of the more common features to look for when purchasing an intrusion/burglar alarms and detection include motion detection, perimeter protection, glass-break detection and multi-area alarming.

Motion detection equipment detects the slightest movements either inside or outside of a facility. Those motion detectors can be integrated with a video surveillance system so the cameras will automatically record the event and time stamp the video.

Intrusion detection systems with perimeter protection may begin at a facility entrance, gate, parking lot or all of the above.

Many businesses typically set alarms at facility entrances and exits, with no detection if an intruder breaks a window to gain entry. Glass-break detection can spot intruders before they gain entry into a fire station.

Access control

Multi-area arming safeguards individual points or multiple areas of concern in a facility. It can arm the first floor or the entire fire station — wherever extra security is needed.

Multi-area arming is ideal for limited access areas or after-hours safeguarding, such as medical supply storage areas, fundraising supplies in a volunteer station or offices with computer equipment.

Access control systems — door locks — restrict who may enter a facility in specified areas. Entry can be determined by person, day of the week and time of day. This is an increasingly important fire station security need to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to the building.

Old school access control, key-operated or cypher locks, present a security liability as keys can be stolen and copied and cypher codes can be shared with unauthorized individuals.

Today, there are card access, digital keypad and biometric access control systems that can be reconfigured remotely or on-site whenever needed, such as when an employee or member is separated from the department. Access for such members can also be deactivated at the time of the individual’s separation.

Wireless security systems

In the old days, a wired security system was the only option, but the contract and need for a landline phone usually made this a non-starter for many entities. And that doesn’t consider the cost of installing the wiring necessary to the system’s operation.

Enter professionally monitored wireless security systems. Wireless security systems feature alarm confirmation, custom-touchpad and central control, multi-zones to accommodate department growth, employee-unique pass codes, real-time clock time stamping, 24-hour zones and siren/battery backup power supplies.

Realtors are increasingly using wireless security systems to maintain physical security at vacant properties in their inventory because of the ease of setup that typically doesn’t require technical expertise. Sensors are placed at the desired points of entry, the main controller is activated through a wireless telephone and the system is active.

Vacant property with various people coming and going sounds an awful lot like a fire station, no? Sensor activations notify the alarm monitoring company and text messages can be sent to designated personnel within the department.

New wireless security systems can enable you to monitor the environment in your fire station when no personnel are present. Worried about freezing pipes? No need with a freeze sensor.

Never worry about whether or not the pipes burst, or if a washing machine is leaking. Water damage is expensive and time consuming to repair, but water sensors can alert the as soon as they detect even a small amount of water.

Fire chiefs and municipal officials need to balance keeping their stations inviting to the public but not inviting to criminals. No one wants their station to look like a top-secret military installation — think Area 51. Likewise no firefighters want to return from a call to find their personal belongings gone and their equipment missing or damaged.

Technology and forethought strike that balance and give everyone a little piece of mind.

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.