Madison (Wis.) Fire Department Fire Station No. 12 has many attributes that deserve recognition. Not only was it the first LEED Platinum–certified fire station in Wisconsin, but it also has a large quantity of natural lighting designed into the station.
While there were economic benefits to the addition of natural lighting, the city also considered the health befefits for firefighters, said Jim Whitney, an architect with the city.
“Good lighting conditions around the apparatus bay floor during the day are important, not only for energy conservation, but also for the occupants,” he said.
When Madison constructed its Fire Station No. 11, designers used clerestory windows to bring light from above. Located at the top of walls, such windows date back to ancient Egypt when high windows were used to let light and fresh air to inner spaces. The windows were so successful in Station No. 11 that the city opted for them again in Station No. 12. Celestory windows are installed around the top of the apparatus bay, along with glass panels on the apparatus bay doors.
“The kitchen area has a wall of windows that extends the length of the one well and through to the dining room area,” Whitney said.
Research shows that prior to 1940, daylight was the primary light source in buildings. Over the following two decades, electric lighting became the source for most or all of the occupant’s lighting requirements. But recently, environmental and energy concerns have brought daylight back as an important aspect of building light.
In a literature review of the effects of natural lighting on building occupants, researchers found that different wavelengths of light produced by natural lighting are associated with higher productivity, lower absenteeism, positive attitudes and reduced fatigue.
There isn't a study specific to firefighters and the effects of daylight in fire stations. However, a study of lighting studies in schools shows a significant shift away from smaller windows to larger windows for three reasons: energy conservation, flow of light, and the effect of natural light on student academic outcomes and behavior.
Energy conservation has improved with better insulation of double-glazed window and tinting. The flow of light from daylight gives off a continuous spectrum of all wavelengths and is the standard for color quality in lighting with a Color Rendering Index of 100. Fluorescent lamps were found to give off a discontinuous spectrum — a flickering light with spikes of color, with a Color Rendering Index from low 50s to 86 — which has been show to over-stimulate the brain of some students.
Many fire-station architects already agree on the benefits of natural daylight, and according to Jeff Dill — a captain with Palatine (Ill.) Rural Fire District, a licensed counselor and founder of the Firefighter Behavioral Alliance, natural lighting help combat Seasonal Affective Disorder, a mood disorder usually experienced in winter or summer.
I suspect that someday research will prove that natural lighting is one more important key to the health of firefighters. Meanwhile, if you are considering building or renovating your fire station, consider more natural lighting in your next station.