Q&A: The No. 1 issue in building a fire station? Location.
Listen to firefighters and other stakeholders to evaluate what's needed when planning for a new facility
This feature is part of our new Fire Chief Digital Edition, a quarterly supplement to FireChief.com that brings a sharpened focus to some of the most challenging topics facing fire chiefs and fire service leaders everywhere. To read all of the articles included in the Summer 2017 issue, click here.
By Kerri Hatt, FireRescue1 Senior Editor
With multiple constructions under his belt, Chief Tom Jenkins knows the foundation for a successful fire station relies on building for the future, considering health and wellness, listening to stakeholders (especially firefighters) – and location, location, location.
Jenkins is fire chief of the Rogers, Arkansas, Fire Department, an ISO 1-rated department serving the city of Rogers and the surrounding Benton County with more than 132 full-time employees, seven fire stations and a training center. He also serves as the first vice president for the IAFC. He sat down with Fire Chief to discuss strategy.
What is the most important aspect of planning for a new fire station?
Put it in the right location. That’s the No. 1 issue I’ve seen with building fire stations – they go where land is cheapest. This is too strategic of a capital purpose to put it in the wrong location.
Evaluate clearly defined data on standards of coverage and how existing resources are being deployed. The risk makeup of the community translates into how big the fire station needs to be and apparatus and people needed.
Arguably the most important component is how response time performance is being handled in that area. Moving a station a few blocks from the outskirts of a neighborhood to an arterial road saves seconds, which translates to hours in response times over the years.
It’s common for fire stations from one jurisdiction to be built on the border of another jurisdiction. If they’re not working together, that can be wasteful construction. Ultimately, citizens don’t care what the name on the side of the big red truck is.
What are the potential pitfalls in building a fire station?
I joke that fire chiefs from time to time have these “ugly babies” – they make mistakes. Say you make a mistake on a uniform, over a couple years you get rid of that uniform.
An approved apparatus that doesn’t quite meet the needs of the guys and gals working on it every day is generally only on the front lines for five, 10, 15 years, depending on the type.
With fire stations, people might not remember anything good you did, but they may remember the horrible station placement or a design flaw for decades.
Fire stations are symbolically one of the most important things for our public to see. They symbolize trust in the local government. We have to be careful to do things that will stand the test of time and focus on the legacy of the fire station.
Make room for the next fire chief to grow into that station as its use and the risk of that community evolve.
What changes in firefighting today will impact future fire station design?
I think you’ll see fire stations adapting to an even more evolving mission. The mission of the fire department 40 years ago, with notably few exceptions, was firefighting. Today, whether we like it or not, we are primarily emergency medicine providers, and that’s a mission we should embrace.
In most fire stations, up until just the last couple of decades, the way we were alerted to a call was some type of bell or alerting sound. The lights came on, the doors went up, and it was a sudden jolt to your sensory organs.
Now we’re much more sensitive in multi-unit stations about not alerting everyone if they don’t need to be alerted. If I’m on a ladder company and it’s an ambulance or the engine company going out, then there’s no sense in me waking up every time.
Now more than ever, we want to keep our firefighters rested for those big incidents, because we’re busier than we ever have been.
What is your top tip for a fire chief building a station?
These are fun projects, so we just have to make sure that we take the time to listen – to the public, to our elected officials who are funding the station, to the needs of allied departments and to the firefighters.
When the firefighters benefit and it’s useful to them, the citizens benefit.
About the author
Kerri Hatt is senior editor, FireRescue1 and EMS1, responsible for defining original editorial content, tracking industry trends, managing expert contributors and leading execution of special coverage efforts. Prior to joining Praetorian Group, Kerri served as an editor for medical allied health B2B publications and communities. She is based out of Charleston, SC. Ask questions or submit ideas to Kerri by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.