One-story stations don't lend themselves to the thrill of the firepole, but they do help ensure clear exit paths from sleeping quarters to the apparatus bay.
"One of our first considerations is the quickest and most efficient response path for the firefighters," says Thomas. "We have to think about opening the path of travel to the apparatus bay, particularly so there's no intersection or conflict with the rooms open to the community."
Some firms expand on such pathfinding methods with automation. "We take a functional, engineering approach to fire stations," Knarr says. "For instance, when an alarm comes in, [we want to give firefighters] a safe transition out of bed at four o'clock in the morning and get them onto trucks. There are certain things that can happen automatically that are triggered by the alarm. Lighting all the major areas where the firefighters might be and lighting the path to the apparatus bay are some examples.
"We have also done stations with automatic shut-offs to the gas on the stove and to the barbecue grill outside. It can be overridden just by hitting a button on the wall, but it gives them one less thing to think about if they're right in the middle of meal prep" when a call comes in.
Thomas suggests low-level interior lighting systems that don't interfere with firefighters' night vision - and don't bother the neighbors.
McGrath acknowledges the possibilities of automation, but her firm follows the tenet: Keep it simple. "You can do just about anything these days with electronics. We did some tricky electronics in one station, but once something happens to them, no one knows how to fix them. So we try to design our stations so they are pretty low-tech."
However, she does suggest an automation computer package called "First In," which controls the response zones and tones. "Because a lot of the stations now have paramedic engines," she said, "they want to ring them down separately from the rest because they're going out so much more."
Sprinklers. Fire stations aren't immune from the threat of fire, and it's traumatic, not to mention embarrassing, to have yours burn down. Several firms noted the importance of leading by example when it comes to sprinklers and smoke alarms in the firehouse.
"Fire stations are supposed to be an example for others when it comes to fire protection," Thomas says. "Sprinkler systems are not required [by code] for this type of building, but we recommend them and usually install them." In Greeley, Colo., the Union Colony Fire Department encourages sprinklers in all of the city''s commercial and public buildings, Pahl says. As a result, the station was turned into a sprinkler showcase by using a number of different kinds of heads for different applications.
Security. The firehouse of yesteryear, open to all comers 24 hours a day, is a thing of the past. "We lock down our stations tight during a call," says Pirnack.
There's no question that there's a heightened level of security, agrees Hughes. "All of our stations are equipped with high-security devices. Obviously, police facilities have always been a target. We're seeing more and more fire stations becoming symbols of governmental presence, and so we are trying to design safety features into them.
"Not only active security such as cipher locks and video cameras, but also angled window sills, so incendiary devices can't be placed next to windows. That and making sure the command center in a fire station is at the front door are examples of the minor changes that have evolved in the past five to eight years."
"We provide a vestibule at the entrance that is secure," Kahn says. "From that you can enter either the community room or the station itself. It's always secure and under the direct observation of the shift commander." There's a bell at the front door with a buzzer to unlock the door and let authorized personnel enter.
"One thing we're seeing that a lot of departments really want is a secure place to park employee vehicles," McGrath says. "They want a rolling gate that locks and a high fence."
Personnel access. As for authorized entry, "the cipher lock has turned out to be the best," Hughes says. "Typically, the personnel have to remember four very simple numbers. The cipher can be changed at any time, and it needs to be often. We have found it to be a foolproof system." Keypad locks and credit card-style swipe systems similar to ones used in hotels are other options.
In addition to these high-tech options, Dommer has reached back to World War II for ballistic-resistance data that will be used in the replacement of a combination fire station and sheriff's office from the '60s. "We need something that will stand up to a 9mm or .357 bullet," he says. "This building uses concrete block, laminated glass and some glass block to accomplish that." Dommer says he had to go all the way back to 1940s data about the concrete block's bullet resistance for his "sort of low-tech solution."