Fire Station Planning: To Renovate or To Replace?

Design considerations for Sni Valley FPD's new station included the amount and mix of apparatus and equipment the facility would house.
Design considerations for Sni Valley FPD’s new station included the amount and mix of apparatus and equipment the facility would house.
















At the forefront of most Fire Department’s planning, when it comes to current station assessment, is the question of whether to renovate or to replace an existing station? The answer to this question may be simple or not so much.

There are a number of factors to consider when assessing a fire station’s conditions:
1) Right location
2) Fit for purpose
3) Apparatus accommodation
4) Building code compliant

While this is not an exhaustive list, it will enable a department to complete a relatively quick assessment of their facility and to determine its fundamental status. Here is a closer look at the factors:

Right Location
Many stations, when first constructed, are located based on the development of the community they serve. The important consideration here is the station location is static while the community is not; the community changes. Additional development occurs, streets and service access to the area served change and the risk within the area served changes. All of these factors affect the assessment of the station being in the right location. The fundamental grading agency for station location is the Insurance Services Office (ISO). Of course, station location is not the only consideration by ISO; however, it is one of the fundamental elements. For more information, refer to

Fit for Purpose
At its fundamental definition, fit for purpose is “something . . . good enough to do the job it was designed to do.” Fire departments often become their own worst enemy when it comes to “making do.” We have observed that stations long outlive their beneficial life because fire department personnel tend to be very self-sufficient and adopt the attitude that whatever is needed around the station can be created by a few ingenious crew members. However, fit for purpose is more about whether the station still meets its essential functions in a safe and supportive environment.

Apparatus Accommodation
Apparatus continues to get bigger, become more specialized and carry more equipment. The assessment of the station needs to include the size of the bay, size of the overhead door and the accommodation of the needed apparatus. Size of the bays is one assessment and line of sight is another. Can the apparatus safely enter and exit the station? If the station is relatively old and backing into the bay is the only option, does this maneuvering have to happen in the street or can it be accommodated on site? These are a few of the considerations for this factor.

Building Code Compliance
While the building code does not require the updating of existing facilities to meet current building codes, renovation may trigger this requirement. Once the requirement to update the station to meet current building codes is determined, the extent of compliance becomes a discussion with the jurisdictional authority. Common code compliance requirements we have encountered include: 1) Apparatus bay ventilation, 2) Bunk room fire separation, 3) Emergency power service and 4) Essential facility compliance. It is this last requirement that is a stumbling block for most departments IF the jurisdictional authority dictates compliance.

While this outlines some of the fundamental factors when considering whether to renovate or replace an existing station, there is still one more consideration: the neighborhood. While it is often difficult to place a station in an existing neighborhood, it is sometimes more difficult to remove a station from an existing neighborhood.

Rick Kuhl, WSKF Architects Principal

Renovation of St. Joseph Fire Station No. 12 balanced functional needs and the station's aesthetic fit within the neighborhood.
Renovation of St. Joseph Fire Station No. 12 balanced functional needs and the station’s aesthetic fit within the neighborhood.