Firefighters' health at heart of Iowa city's new fire station

The chief said her must-haves are biophilia — or focusing the design on nature to improve mental health — and decontamination areas


Madison Arnold
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

MARION, Iowa — When Marion Fire Station No. 2 went into service in 1991, firefighter Deb Krebill spent the first night there.

Back then, Marion was a town of roughly 20,000, served by two fire stations. Today, the city has doubled in population — and Krebill is now the fire chief — but it still is served by those same two locations.

Architects are using biophilic design for the new building, which focuses on nature and sustainability. (Photo/OPN Architects).
Architects are using biophilic design for the new building, which focuses on nature and sustainability. (Photo/OPN Architects).

A third site for a new fire station has been in the works for years, but has faced roadblocks — including being put on the back burner after the 2008 recession and amid difficulties securing land in more recent years, Krebill said.

Deb Krebill puts out fires for a living, and, as she will tell you, she wouldn't have it any other way.

The new facility will be near Marion’s new YMCA and Gill Park, on the southwest corner of Tower Terrace Road and Irish Drive. The city purchased the land for about $1 million last year.

The city set aside local-option sales tax dollars for the project and the remainder will come from general obligation bonds, totaling $7.2 million, said City Manager Lon Pluckhahn.

A 2015 accreditation study showed Marion actually needs four fire stations, with the final one being near Highway 13 and 35th Avenue. But because Marion’s development went west and north first, Fire Station No. 3 became more of a priority. There is no set timeline for No. 4.

“It’s a goal for us,” Pluckhahn said, adding the city may have to plan its next fire station around Linn-Mar’s new intermediate school at 35th Avenue and 44th Street and housing development that may follow.

Since that 2015 report, the city has been ramping up staffing to fill the latest station when it opens. Six firefighters have been hired in recent years with three full-time positions coming this year.

As far as new fleet vehicles and major equipment for the new station, the department already has enough to handle it — with the exception of a new medic vehicle, Pluckhahn said.

When the new station finally comes online, Krebill said, it’ll have been worth the wait.

The facility will be a station “of the future” that perhaps sets a design example for new buildings in the community, she said. Architects are designing the interior and Krebill hopes to break ground by the end of the summer.

The new station will be designed with the firefighters’ physical and mental health in mind.

Krebill said her must-haves are biophilia — or focusing the design on nature to improve mental health — and decontamination areas, or decon, to keep carcinogens from fires that get on firefighters’ gear away from their bodies and living areas.

“Every time you turn a corner, you’ll be able to maybe look outside,” Krebill said, adding that natural wood ceilings or water features and plant walls could be possibilities. “I told the guys, I said, ‘Biophilia is important.’ And I said, ‘Not only to me, but to the city ... they want to see developers start using this.”

Bedrooms, for firefighters’ 24-hour shifts, will have floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over a green roof and have patios, all in an effort to help firefighters de-stress.

The idea to use biophilia design in the new building came from Thomas Treharne, the city’s community development director, who gave Krebill a book on the topic.

“I fell in love with (biophilia) because all the classes I was going to about firefighter (post-traumatic stress disorder), I’m thinking ‘biophilia fits right into that,’” Krebill said.

The new station will have an area where firefighters can put their gear after a fire and rinse off in one room and then go to a clean room for a full shower and lockers with clean clothes.

Krebill said it’s necessary these days to have a decontamination process as structures and furniture that could burn move away from using natural materials to plastics. She said the soot from bringing synthetic materials can penetrate firefighters’ bodies.

“It’s totally changed,” Krebill said. “They don’t want you to put your bunker gear even in the (firetruck) cab anymore.”

Adding a fire station would likely improve response times and lower the number of times all units are out on call.

The station will be 20,000 square feet and include the Fire Department’s offices. Also on the land, officials plan a retention pond that doubles as a place for ice-rescue training.

Krebill said all the city’s firefighters will use the new station for training but they’ll likely be assigned to one specific station permanently. She said this will help foster a relationship between specific firefighters and their neighborhoods.

“It’ll be there for everybody. And our volunteers, it will be their training spot,” she said.

When the new station does get put into service, Krebill doesn’t think she’ll be the first one to spend the night there, though she likes to make it known she did that in 1991 at Station No. 2.

“I don’t work 24 hours any more,” she said. “But I should just to be ornery.”

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©2019 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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