(Appeared in print as "Room to grow")
As a young designer, working on my first fire station, little did I know how important the design of the kitchen, dining room and dayroom would be to the overall success of the station and the fire personnel who work there every day. Like the heart of any home in America, these spaces are where firefighters gather to share more than their meals, some conversation and watch television together. The living quarters are the working “heart” of a fire station. When these spaces are designed correctly, they can be used to promote team building, encourage firefighter camaraderie, nurture culture, and provide opportunities for mentorship to occur.
So, how do you go about designing these spaces for success? Like a home, these spaces must be inviting and comfortable. They should be designed to optimize natural daylighting, offer visual connectedness, and include measures for sound control. The layout of these spaces should work and flow together as a single unit, like a well-trained engine or truck company.
I have worked with different fire departments over the years and have conducted many initial design meetings at the dining-room table of firehouses. As a result of these on-site meetings, I have witnessed firsthand fire crews that exhibit strong team camaraderie and those who obviously lack a strong sense of team at these meetings. I believe that company culture is passed from one generation to the next via mentorship and working shoulder-to-shoulder on a daily basis.
As an architect, I strongly believe that the layout and design of the living quarters is a key component to facilitating opportunities for team building and mentorship. I have found that fire crews who cook and eat together tend to enjoy each other’s company. These crews also exhibit a strong desire to spend time together after the day’s work is complete.