Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Architect Offers 'Day in the Life' Experience

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When designing a building, architects take on the role of those who will use the space. But experiencing it firsthand inspires new thought and leadership.

CR architecture + design's "Day in the Life" project created the opportunity to observe everyday concerns from firefighters.A I literally walked in the shoes of a firefighter when I reported to the captain for my 24-hour B shift at a fire station in Roanoke, Va.

The experience was real. B Shift started at 7:50 a.m., and I arrived 20 minutes prior to get the lay of the land. I was assigned to Engine 1 and for 24 hours would go on every call and become a part of the firefighter family. This included training, completing daily chores and cooking.

B shift took part in a roof/smoke ventilation and dwelling entry exercise off-site during the day. While regional training facilities exist, the locations of these centers donat always allow on-duty firefighters to stay within their call area.A

Aside from training, our crew cleaned the floors, showers and toilets between calls, a daily chore. Selection of materials and finishes should consider durability, ease of maintenance, cost as well as replacement cost. Itas not easy to replace flooring, finishes and most equipment in a 24-hour use space.

Laundry is also a daily occurrence, and most stations have only one domestic washer and dryer to launder dirty work clothes, bedding and towels for the entire crew.A To overhear casual conversation concerning who folded whose laundry and when the next load could go in, gave me pause to think stations could benefit from multiple washer/dryers.A Additionally, commercial-grade washers and extractors allow crew to clean expensive turn-out gear.A Before making decisions between commercial and residential equipment, understand the pros and cons and the impact on initial versus life-cycle costs.A A A A A A A A A A

Much like a home, when not on calls, the kitchen becomes the social gathering space and heart of the station.A However, with at least nine on duty to feed and many cooks in the kitchen, the functional layout must appropriately accommodate the size of shifts and limit crossover through workspace.A Some considerations when designing the kitchen include: automatic shut-offs for cooking appliances, secure food storage and cooking appliance space available for each shift, and durable, easily maintained flooring. A review of code issues, maintenance and other long-term costs associated with commercial and residential grade appliances is also advisable to determine the best solution for your department.

Engine 1 responded to five calls throughout the night.A Disruption of sleep may be part of the job, but a carefully planned design for the sleeping quarters can make it more tolerable.A When a call comes in, oftentimes, not everyone must go. I lay awake much of the night hearing snoring, banging doors, a television, and someone tapping the keys on a computer. Simple design considerations can help reduce the transfer of sound, provide some privacy and accommodate individual habits. These may include:

A

A sound-masking system.

Walls, at a minimum, dividing individual areas in an open plan.

Door and hardware selection.

Unlit exit signage (depending on code requirements).

Location of cable jacks for electronic devices.

Location and type of lockers.

Keep in mind, the style of sleeping space effects the design and cost of HVAC and warning systems. The more individualized and compartmentalized, the more likely initial costs will increase.

With the male-to-female ratio changing among departments, further emphasis on layout and open versus semi-private or private sleeping quarters is an issue. As a female firefighter impersonator, I was the only female on B shift. I slept in my clothes with shoes at the ready and turn-out gear on the truck in anticipation of a call. To reach the restroom to change, I passed through the large locker room and by a couple men in their underwear.A Design for some privacy combined with a departmental dress code can create a more comfortable environment for both genders; however, too much privacy could be a detriment to establishing the bond among the crew.

In a station, very little is "yours." Crews often sleep on shared beds ("hot sheet") to save space. Personal storage is typically limited to an under-the-bed container and a 24-inch-by-24-inch locker for toiletries, towels and their entire wardrobe of work clothes, clean or dirty; policy dictates that all work clothes stay at work to avoid contamination. And, there is often no get-away space, other than a bathroom, to make a private call to a doctor or find out how your child did on an exam. Even when space is tight, considerations such as beds that fold into walls, a small privacy room and larger lockers can create a more accommodating environment.

Taking a walk in a firefighteras shoes gave me new insights into how to better design for those who serve to protect our communities. Slight enhancements in station design will help provide these professionals some simple comforts of a home.A For certain, the "Day in the Life" project has made me a better architect and given me a new found appreciation for these courageous men and women.

Brenda Landes, AIA, LEED AP, is the Regional Manager for CR architecture + designas office in Roanoke, Va. CR is a full-service firm focused in government, education, commercial, retail, housing and hospitality design. CR has completed over 100 fire station projects nationwide and has received national recognition for its planning, design and innovation in fire, emergency and public-safety facilities.

Source Citation
"Architect Offers 'Day in the Life' Experience." Fire Chief [Online Exclusive] (2010). General OneFile. Web. 23 Nov. 2010.
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