When a Firefighter Designs Firehouses

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Growing up on Long Island with a family lineage of volunteer firefighters, all signs pointed toward me following in their footsteps. Throughout my childhood, I watched my grandfather, uncle, cousins and brother all volunteer as firemen to serve their respective communities. When I finally turned 18 years old—the age at which I could volunteer to be a fireman in my own community—I jumped at the opportunity to continue on with my family’s tradition. At 18, I also began to carve my path as an architect in college. I was first exposed to architecture through a drafting class in my junior year of high school. However, it wasn’t until a school field trip to H2M that I realized I would be able to tie architecture to my passion for being a volunteer firefighter. Before that field trip, I took firehouses for granted. They existed, and I had been inside them more times than I could count, but I never gave any thought to how they got there. Obviously, they were built by someone, but I never paid any mind to the fact that there are people who are responsible for designing them. At the time, it seemed like the best possible fit. I would be able to combine my love for firefighting and my familiarity of firehouses with the creative freedom to design them in my vision. Since becoming an architect, my knowledge of firehouses has influenced my design to provide the best possible product. As a regular end-user of these facilities, I have hands-on experience with what works in firematic design and what doesn’t.

As a volunteer firefighter, I understand that a firehouse is not just a garage for apparatus—more commonly known as fire trucks—and I’ve seen what these facilities require to be sufficiently maintained. I also understand the processes firefighters use and I’ve experienced what firehouses need for their firefighters to safely and rapidly respond to calls. For example, I have been driving and operating my station’s large apparatus for many years, and I have developed a full understanding of the clearances needed to effectively maneuver it. While it is true that each fire truck is different, their operation requires similar needs. The angles of ramps, widths of doors, and pathways for firemen to safely travel around the truck are all major design considerations. Having this understanding allows for the design of a safer and more efficient firehouse. Gear storage and response time is another example of how my experience influences my design.

As a volunteer, you are expected to respond from home in whatever weather conditions exist. Prior to even getting on the fire truck, response time is affected by slippery floors, winding or cumbersome ingress paths, and inadequate space to put on gear. Having encountered these problems before, I know to use safer floor systems, simple and safe pathways, and to allow ample space for the firemen’s gear area. I’ve also been exposed to the various systems used in firehouses. Be it dispatching equipment, alerting devices, emissions evacuation systems or mapping equipment, I have used them all firsthand. This exposure directly influences the systems incorporated into my design, and provides me with the ability to choose the best possible systems based on the needs of the fire department. Since becoming a volunteer firefighter, and later focusing my career as an architect on firematic design, I have been able to create safe and efficient spaces for my fellow firemen. The experience I’ve gained has been proven invaluable, and I have been fortunate enough to both serve and build communities. Pat Stone, LEED AP BD&C is a Project Designer for H2M. For more information on firematic design services, you can reach Pat at pstone@h2m.com.