| 6 min read | by Zach Michels, Dexter City Council |

Dexter City Council

Note: Dexter City Council Member Zach Michels recently traveled to Chicago to attend a conference on firehall remodel/construction requirements. He had a chance to consult with some of the architects and engineers showing them the remodel plans for the current fire station and the new construction plans for the MAVD property.

Zach submitted a summary of his finding to City Council. This first article covers highlights of the feedback he received for the current fire station. The second article will give the highlights of the feedback regarding new construction plans on the MAVD property.

Zach’s entire report can be found here beginning on page 43.

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Here is a list of my concerns related to the design of the site plan and the building for the proposed addition and remodel at 8140 Main, location of the current fire station. Though many of the concerns touch on additional costs or hidden costs that do not appear to be fully addressed or accounted for, the list does include purely financial concerns (for example the cost to secure property and build a temporary fire station for the 18+ months of construction).

Anybody who’s talked with me or heard me speak on this topic anytime these past couple of years has probably heard me address several or many of these concerns. Following my time at the Station Design Conference and speaking with many architects who only design fire stations and public safety buildings and other first responders, there are some additional comments and refinements of previous issues.

The issues listed below are not in any particular order nor are they exhaustive. – Zach

Longevity/Limited Usefulness

Because of the significant public investment in public buildings, they should remain useful and last a long time. They should be future proof in ways that allow for flexibility to meet future needs. The general consensus in the fire station world is that modern fire stations should be designed and build to serve the community for 50 to 75 years.

Because of how tight the building site is and the gymnastics required to fit (most but not all of) the necessary spaces in, this proposed building would have a very short useful life cycle. Every single bay would already be spoken for when the lights are switched on. There would be absolutely no room to add day space, sleeping quarters, office space, or additional apparatus bays in the future.

The configuration limits the flexibility for staging apparatus in the future and today. This can increase response times from day one. The configuration limits the type of equipment that the department could buy from day one, for all of the stations. I fear that once this building is opened, the effort to find the next station or another station would have to begin even before this one is paid off.

The cost of building a structure and acquiring land will have gone up, and we will get to spend 40 years paying for fire stations instead of 20 years. (I admit that I prefer to buy a car and get benefit of owning it rather than continuously leasing cars.)

Upper Level Egress Apron

The egress apron is the area between the apparatus bays and the street. The preferred design is to limit the amount and nature of traffic on egress aprons. The ideal is to limit it to egress of emergency vehicles. There should be no public or other vehicular traffic. There should be no pedestrian traffic.

All of the architects I spoke with were extremely concerned with the poor and congested pedestrian circulation in the upper egress apron. They expressed concerns about conflicts between different apparatus movements, how overlapping routes could slow response or cause an accident. They expressed concerns about secondary responders both potentially driving in this area and having to cross it by foot.

The extremely tight turning radius for the two additional bays would “destroy” both the apron, requiring more costly construction and maintenance, and the tires. These vehicles are extremely heavy and constantly executing the tightest turns allowed by the frame is not good.

Because of the tightness of this site and the topography, there really are no opportunities to improve this condition or to make it close to current best practices. The proximity to downtown means that it is very common for public vehicles to pull into the upper apron to make u turns.

The last time I was at the station (15-20 minutes), I saw two vehicles do it. Of course we can and should put signs up, but signs can only do so much to address human nature.

Hot/Cold Transitions

Fire stations are generally divided into hot spaces, that contain hazardous materials, and cold spaces, which are the habitable spaces. In the last 15 years, there has been a tremendous understanding in the impact of hazardous materials on fire fighters’ health. They are two times more likely to have testicular or skin cancer than the general population. They are more likely to die from cancer than in the line of duty. Keeping those spaces separated and properly managing those transitions is essential in any modern fire station.

Because there are multiple bays, there will have to be multiple transition areas. In the upper floor, for example, there will have to be at three vapor/fire walls, which adds to the cost. (And does not appear to be accounted for.) The proposed transitions do not provide any space for a bench, drinking fountain, trash can, or adequate walk-off mat, nor does there appear to be any available space to make changes to the layout to allow for that.

The bench allows a fire fighter to sit down and change shoes. The drinking fountain allows them to hydrate without travelling through the rest of the building. The trash can allows them to empty their pockets before entering the rest of the building. Because there are two main apparatus bays without direct circulation between them, some equipment would need to be duplicated in each bay and some equipment might be moved from bay to bay.

That movement would either require taking hot zone materials through a cold zone or through the outside. Going to the watch area would require traversing a hot zone. Having the two separate main bays causes so many challenges with adequate transition spaces that are either impossible or extremely expensive to address.

Parking

The facility will need to provide a variety of parking. Parking for on-duty fire fighters and police officers. Parking for secondary/volunteer responders. Parking for training. Parking for members of the public.

In order to accommodate parking on the tight site, some parking spaces would have to be reserved in the lower parking lot that currently serves the park. This would limit the public’s use of the park and, due to human nature, would take a lot of effort to keep clear and available. Some parking spaces would be provided along the eastern edge of the egress apron.

If secondary responders were tasked with parking here during a call, there could be conflicts with exiting fire trucks. The access to several of the spots is not wide enough and would have to be widened or those parking spaces eliminated. Additionally, it would not be possible to park the vehicles in the western addition if vehicles are parked in this area.

Parking for the police department would be with new perpendicular spaces along the western edge of Alpine. These spaces would not be available for use by patrons of adjacent businesses. It would not be possible to provide indoor parking for the police squad vehicles. Enclosed parking reduce the amount of time spent preparing the vehicle before patrol and means officers don’t have to schlep equipment like computers, firearms, first aid kits, etc, back and forth between the building and the squad car.

Limited Bay Space

The depth of the existing bays could not be expanded and the depth of the new bays would be limited, due to the size of the site. The remodeled bays would not allow for the purchase or use of what are considered to be standard length fire trucks.

The shorter size trucks have less space for water storage and equipment. If a truck is damaged, it would be much more difficult to get a quick replacement.

The cabs of fire trucks open forward and up. There would not be space within any of the bays to open the cab in order to access the engines. Trucks would have to be pulled out onto the egress apron in order to check or change the oil, blocking the egress paths of other equipment.

The limited depth of both of the main bays means it would not be possible to install bi-fold doors. These doors, though more expensive to purchase, open twice as fast as conventional overhead doors and require less maintenance.

Modern fire stations are designed with at least five feet of clearance around each apparatus. The existing bays to be, remodeled do not provide that distance. In fact, if the doors of adjacent trucks are open they hit each other. This prevents the doors from being left open, which has been standard practice in fire stations for at least 2 decades. It allows the vehicle to air out; it allows for a quicker response time.

There is not space for fire fighters to pre-stage their gear next to the truck at the start of their shift. Because of the limited space, apparatus would have to be left outside while others are being cleaned. It is not ideal to have to park expensive fire trucks in the middle of the street for hours after an event. It increases the chance that they might get hit or cause an accident due to the restricted vision.

Other Issues

This list is not exhaustive. There are issues with having to install and maintain an elevator. There are issues with having to find a location for and build a temporary fire station for 12+ months. There are issues with retrofitting the circular drains in the existing bays with trench bays and the need to install multiple oil/water separators.

Note: Readers are encouraged to read Zach’s entire report found here beginning on page 43.

Part 2 of these articles will share the feedback Zach received regarding the plans for the construction of a new fire station.