When Nashville Fire Department Assistant Chief Al Thomas attempted to order a new fire truck for Station 14 in East Nashville, there was a problem. None of the manufacturer’s trucks would fit in the historic station, which was built in 1913.
“We had to have them build a short pumper just for that station,” Thomas said. The station at 16th and Holly Street was the first NFD facility with a motorized fire engine.
And while none of NFD’s stations are quite as old as Station 14, many are outdated — and the NFD is in the midst of a master building plan that will replace existing stations with new facilities. (The Holly Street fire hall, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, underwent renovations as part of the plan in 2008.)
The target of the plan mostly includes stations built in the 1960s and 1970s, and a lot has changed since then.
“When those stations were built, they were built based on the responses that the fire department was making at that time, which back then was before emergency medical services,” Thomas said. “They got real cramped when we took on the role of EMS.”
That was in 1974.
But the fire halls being built today have ample room to accommodate ambulances and fire trucks.
“The buildings we build now are able to house any size fire apparatus that’s out there and probably in the next few years, because we build them with doors that are 16 feet wide and 16 feet tall,” Thomas said.
The new stations are bringing NFD’s facilities into the 21st century.
When many of Nashville’s current fire stations were originally constructed, the projects were mostly self-contained within the fire department.
That meant the department had to come up with the funds, planning and design of the new stations.
Now the process is more involved. Metro provides most of the funding through its capital improvement budget, while the project management is contracted through Metro’s Department of General Services. Local construction company Messer and architectural designers Gobbell Hays Partners and Thomas, Miller & Partners are involved in the fire station redesigns.
According to Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, the fire department has received more than $30 million in capital improvement funds over the past four years. That number includes a $12 million allocation in Mayor Karl Dean’s $297 million capital plan for 2012-2013.
The recent funding allows the NFD to continue chipping away at high-priority improvements laid out by a 2002 facilities study.
State and local laws are factoring in to some of the specific design elements. For instance, a state law regarding gender equity now requires that newly constructed fire halls abandon the “bunk room” format of the past.
The new East Nashville station opening next week will have 14 individual bedrooms, including two bedrooms for captains.
“Because the fire service is a diverse fire service now, and we have both females and males, then we had to accommodate those,” Thomas said. “It creates a much better environment for the person working in there, which work a third of their career inside this building.”
All bathrooms in the new halls will also be gender-neutral.
Due to the bedroom requirement, most of the new halls will be two stories — a contrast from the low-slung, single-story structures of the 1970s. And no, the additional story won’t mean the return of a fire pole, Thomas said. Instead, doors will open to a wide staircase that leads firefighters directly into the truck bay.
According to Thomas, the new stations are designed specifically to increase response times.
“There is a national framework for response ... and all of that came into play when we designed the building,” Thomas said. “We kept in mind: What’s the best way for the flow of traffic to get us out of there as fast as we can?”
The national standard for “turnout time” — the time it takes fire responders to leave the building — is about 90 seconds. And when every second matters, a small feature like motion-sensors that turn lights on and off can make a difference.
Another emphasis being put on the new stations are “pull-through” bays for the trucks. The design of the older stations force trucks to back into the garages — which can sometimes lead to accidents.
“We try to get a design that allows us to have a pull-through station, and that means access for the fire apparatus to drive in the back door and out the front. It’s not always possible to do, but that’s one of our priorities,” Thomas said.
The new station in East Nashville was actually lowered several feet to allow for easier vehicle access from an alley behind the building.
“It’s a lot safer for the citizens that live around there, and it’s a lot safer for the firefighters,” Thomas said.
While progress is being made on six stations, there are still challenges facing other stations. Station 2, near Second Avenue North and Gay Street downtown, was originally slated for a complete rebuild. But the current property wasn’t conducive to the design elements of the new fire halls. Then there was a plan to move it just across the river to East Nashville.
“Because there is so much equipment and so much personnel in that station, it was tough to bring it up to the state standard,” Thomas said. “We looked at a possible site that was going to take it off of the existing site and move it across the river. It was decided that wasn’t the best possible place for them to be able to respond in the areas they respond to.”
Instead, the building will undergo remodeling.
As funding becomes available, NFD plans to continue replacing stations.
“We build these stations and expect them to last 50 years,” Thomas said. “[Some of the current stations] may be pushing 50 years, but they weren’t designed to last that long, I guarantee you.”
Fire Station 33 – This Antioch-area station, located on Forest View Drive near Murfreesboro Pike, originally shared a station with Station 35. A facility study from 2002 recommended the stations break up.
Fire Station 21 – This station at Nolensville Pike and Joyner Avenue had a groundbreaking ceremony in March. The new building, comprising more than 19,000 square feet, is expected to open in 2013.
Fire Station 11 – Firefighters from Station 11 on Dr. D.B. Todd Jr. Boulevard were relocated to Station 24 on Clarksville Highway last week. A new fire station will be built on the same site, with a completion date during 2013.
Fire Station 31 – Mayor Karl Dean cut the ribbon on the new 15,500-square-foot station in Madison last month. It was the first of the new wave of stations to open. The facility includes an electric car charging station — and is in the process of applying for LEED certification.
Fire Station 3 – This station on Meridian Street in East Nashville is scheduled to open Tuesday. The firefighters and emergency medical services responders have been operating out of nearby stations for more than a year.
Fire Station 30 – Groundbreaking on a new fire station at 3715 Old Clarksville Highway in Joelton took place in August. The single-story facility has been designed to blend into the neighborhood with the capability of future expansion.