Keys to Great Fire Station Design: Meet Kirkland’s Impressive Lineup of New and Upgraded Fire Stations

We have a huge amount of respect for what firefighters do in our communities every day. And the best way we can show our appreciation is by creating thoughtful, effective spaces for firefighting teams.

We’re grateful this opportunity has presented itself again and again to our team at Coughlin Porter Lundeen. To date, we have studied and designed more than 90 stations and training facilities across Washington state. These facilities serve close to 40 municipalities or regions. While each presents unique needs and challenges, there are undoubtedly best practices that serve as pillars of great fire station design.

Our team has narrowed these to include three keys:
1.    Site planning and natural resource protection
2.   Understanding the needs of firefighting teams
3.   Responsibly managing public funds

We are honored that the City of Kirkland and TCA Architecture have trusted us to work on five recent fire stations, in which these best practices and keys are on full display.

KEY 1: SITE PLANNING AND NATURAL RESOURCE PROTECTION

Fire station design starts with site considerations. Our appreciation for the water resources needed to support firefighting has become even stronger over the years, especially given the effects of climate change. That’s why site planning and natural resource protection are more important than ever.

On Display in Kirkland: The Kirkland Fire Department relocated Fire Station 27 to the east side of Interstate 405 to respond more efficiently to the surrounding neighborhoods. The new station is a two-story building with three-and-a-half apparatus bays, where the focus of our civil team was on reducing the new station’s impact on surrounding water systems. To improve preexisting downstream conditions and to reduce the impact on the local ecosystem of Juanita Creek, the new stormwater discharge location is above the high-water mark of Juanita Creek. A new stormwater main was upsized to accommodate both upstream development and the additional stormwater from the new fire station site.

Fire Station 22’s site was also designed with the future in mind. City of Kirkland plans for offsite improvements include roadway widening, yet 24-7access is obviously critical for emergency services. The civil team designed a solution to meet current and future needs with appropriate grading for continuous fire truck access, future roadway improvements, and drainage.

KEY 2: UNDERSTANDING THE NEEDS OF FIREFIGHTERS

Firefighters face unique daily demands, and their facilities must perform accordingly.

As design teams learn the ins and outs of firefighter life, they become familiar with the many nuances and necessities associated with fire station design. Some stations have large bays with vertical bi-fold doors to improve response times, zones specially designed to minimize exposure to carcinogens like diesel exhaust and smoke particles, and training space to help firefighters maintain their high levels of physical fitness. Plus, fire stations and training facilities serve as second homes, where firefighters rest and recharge.

On Display in Kirkland: The fire department is an impressive all hazards response organization, so they not only fight fires and provide emergency medical care, but also respond to rescue and hazardous material calls.

Late in the design of Station 24 (which won a 2022 Firehouse National Station Design Gold Award!), the department was among the first in the nation to respond to COVID-19. Firefighters’ daily routines changed, and as a result, the design team changed the layout of the decontamination room to minimize exposure to contaminants. We updated the structure quickly, adding a first-of-its-kind exterior decontamination room with a separate entrance without delaying the project schedule.

While the functionality and efficiency of the station is a high priority, the well-being of firefighters remains critical so that they can perform at their highest capacity. With that in mind all the details of the station are considered. For example: to ensure maximum rest for off-duty personnel, an isolation slab between the exercise and sleeping rooms in Station 24, so vibration and sound transfer would be minimized as much as possible.

“These jobs are complicated and require a lot of creativity and sustained attention but they’re absolutely worth it to serve firefighters who protect people every day,” Mike Armstrong, Senior Structural Project Manager.

KEY 3: RESPONSIBLY MANAGING PUBLIC FUNDS

A third key in fire station design is using public funds responsibly, whether new construction or revitalization of existing structures. Design teams include architects, engineers representing many disciplines, landscape architects, and more. All these professionals work together to find the best possible options and to produce the highest return on the investment of public funds.

On Display in Kirkland: Fire Station 22 was a renovation project without any planned utility upgrades initially. However, during the design phase, the city’s maintenance and public works departments voiced the need to replace aging onsite sewer and storm mains. Because of the depth of these utility mains and the proximity to the building, the work would be very complicated. The City of Kirkland trusted this work to the project team, and successful replacement of both avoided higher cost replacements in the future.

And the work doesn’t stop at design. Implementation is just as important and will require careful coordination between engineers and general contractors.

On Display in Kirkland: The scope of work for Station 22 was a full facility renovation. This retrofit expanded and reconfigured the one-story brick masonry building built in the 1980s. The retrofit included lengthening three apparatus bays and adding a decontamination room, among other necessary upgrades.

Given the complicated and intricate demolition required for the load bearing masonry walls, contractor Allied Construction Associates extensively photographed the structure and marked every anticipated wall demolition and penetration.

We then confirmed and annotated each photo as needed, and coordinated with the contractor, architect, and mechanical engineer. Additional verification was provided through extensive field measurements before construction began.

We look forward to completion of the remodels of Fire Stations 21 and 26, expected by 2025.

“It was a great experience to be able to work on back-to-back fire station projects with the City of Kirkland. We took everything we learned on Fire Stations 22 and 27 and applied that to Stations 21 and 26. It helped advance the design process with the City because we already had a good idea of what they wanted in the final design. We are excited that those stations are beginning construction,” Jackie Sempel, Civil Associate Principal.

Older stations slated for renovation such as these Kirkland fire stations typically do not meet current seismic standards. These require diligent coordination with the architect and mechanical engineer to minimize impacts to the building and other disciplines. For Stations 21 and 26, the location of additional footings needed for shear walls were coordinated with the underground utilities. Also, while one solution to increasing resistance to seismic loads would be to only add shear walls, we converted existing walls to lateral resisting shear walls wherever possible to preserve the functionality of the station and control project costs.

We are proud of our contributions to these essential services in our communities and environmental protection for vital waterways, and look forward to continuing that work across Washington state.

Photography: © Lara Swimmer & Ed Sozinho, All Rights Reserved