By Jim Crawford
Published Saturday, August 18, 2012
| From the October 2012 Issue of FireRescue
What would/should the fire station of the future look like—and what does that have to do with prevention?
My friend Gus Kamp first introduced me to the concept of a fire station of the future. Kamp was an architectural graduate when he did an internship with Portland Fire and Rescue many years ago and he educated me about architecture in a way I had never imagined. From my perspective, buildings are built for a specific use. That view fits nicely into the building and fire code world, where buildings are in fact categorized and ranked according to hazards and use. It’s not rocket science that an auto-body repair shop that uses hazardous materials and operations would be in a different category from a small convenience store.
But Gus’ concept made me think of buildings in an entirely different light. Use can be governed and enhanced by the building features.
The fire service concept of community interaction is often to build a community room onto a fire station. In this model, the occupants of the fire station and community members rarely actually interact; the firefighters simply clean up the leftover pizza boxes and vacuum the floor after community meetings that don’t usually involve their participation. How then could building design take advantage of people’s need for use, and actually encourage interaction?
Instead of a community room, what about building an attached exercise area onto a fire station? Such a building could not only be accessible to the public, but could also incorporate a private sector vendor that offers formal exercise training. Think Gold’s Gym attached to a fire station.
In doing this, you take advantage of the natural interest firefighters have in exercise and connect them to members of the community who share the same need/desire. “Use” in this context can help create behaviors. Leasing out the space to a private vendor, with free use for firefighters, could feed several birds with one seed. The firefighters have a space for fitness, the private sector subsidizes its use (and perhaps part of the operating cost of the fire station), and firefighters are then interacting with members of the public in a way not previously imagined.
Imagine the Possibilities
Beyond being fit, by exercising alongside community member, the firefighters might spot some potential future firefighters, helping with recruitment. And they might bond with taxpayers who would not normally receive service from the fire department. There are several potential benefits to this approach, and the idea can be extrapolated further. How about a community pool that’s used for dive training by firefighters and swimming by citizens? How about a rock climbing facility that’s used for high-angle rescue training by firefighters and recreation by the community? And imagine the public relations possibilities during this interaction when the firefighters are training in a public setting—and are called away to an emergency.
Then imagine the teachable moment that those same firefighters will have with a community that is interested in their operations, and much more amenable to safety messages. The fire station of the future can enhance day-to-day interaction by shared use, and there will be a better chance that an open house used for safety education will have a natural audience interested in the fire service in a way never previously imagined.
Perhaps there is a fire department in the U.S. that has fully realized this vision, and if so, I’d like to know about it. My friends in Merseyside, UK, are exploring this concept and building a new community fire station that is designed to provide space for families, and especially children, to exercise along with the firefighters. In fact, the concept is part of a larger effort called FireFit(www.merseyfire.gov.uk), where fire stations all across the northwest UK are encouraging fitness exercise in conjunction with the 2012 Olympics. Merseyside’s new community fire station is being funded, in part, by their department of education, and will include a gym, a martial arts studio, classrooms and football pitches.
They plan to have activities that can be used for interaction and safety education while dealing with a national area of concern: physical fitness. That should sound familiar to us in the U.S., where obesity is rapidly becoming a national public health priority.
I can hear the grumbling—and so can you—from firefighters who don’t want their privacy in their “home away from home” interrupted in this fashion. But we’re not private. We’re a public service and we need people to understand our jobs more than ever.
Author’s Note: There are many good reasons to examine this concept more deeply. Those interested in doing so can contact Gus directly at email@example.com. He is currently working for an architectural firm in Oregon, but he’s also a former volunteer firefighter and his heart is in helping others achieve their goals through more modern views of architecture. And if you want to reach out to the UK, Sara Lawton is the project manager for their new station and can be reached at SaraLawton@merseyfire.gov.uk.
Comment Now: Post Your Thoughts & Comments on This Story