Do you know a firefighter who has been diagnosed with cancer? What about a fire department that lost a firefighter to suicide? Too many of us do. Raising awareness to improve the physical and mental health of firefighters and emergency medical personnel is more than just a trend. As a result of research into physical and mental health issues, architects specializing in the design of fire, EMS, and law enforcement facilities interpret research into building design. And it’s time.
In 2015 at the Firehouse Station Design Conference, the hot zone design concept for containing carcinogenic contaminants in fire stations was presented by Paul Erickson, FAIA, LeMay Erickson Wilcox Architects. Since that time, hot zone design or elements have been rapidly incorporated into new fire station designs. (Much like the dramatic changes in fire apparatus design five years after a Massachusetts firefighter fell from a fire truck. The ensuing lawsuit in 1986 led to significant changes in fire trucks firefighters to include fully enclosed cabins and seat belts for each crew member.)
Among the more than 30 presentations at the 2022 Station Design Conference, May 24-26 in Rosemont, Illinois, several focus on reducing firefighter exposure to carcinogens in the fire station. Increased efforts to contain exhibits have recently evolved into on-site procedures to remove and pack bunker gear to reduce transportation to the station.
Red/Yellow/Green: Design for exposure reduction and contaminant control, presented by Katie Atwater, AIA, and Christopher Kehde, AIA, LeMay Erickson Willcox Architects, will focus on recent updates to hot zone design principles. Atwater and Kehde will include recent updates to NFPA standards, examples of customization for each department’s health safety goals, and highlight lessons learned through case studies.
Precautions continue when contaminated turnout gear from an incident is returned to the fire station. The importance of designing a decontaminated laundry room that meets NFPA 1851 guidelines is presented by Robert Mitchell, AIA, Mitchell Associates Architects. In Build an effective decontamination laundry sector in your station, Mitchell explores the spaces needed and common design mistakes to avoid. As research continues to reveal a better understanding of cancer in firefighters, he shares emerging ideas not yet incorporated into standards that should become an essential part of fire station design.
Another concern regarding the physical and mental health of first responders is sleep deprivation and the impact of 24- or 48-hour work schedules. Craig Carter, AIA, BKV Group tracked the loss of sleep and health, and ultimately safety, of firefighters and EMS personnel. In Solving Sleep Deprivation for First RespondersCarter shares the health and behavioral implications of sleep deprivation and offers resort design elements that can help and the policy changes needed to alleviate sleep deprivation.
Last year, according to a Kansas Today article, a team of investigators from the University of Kansas collected data on ways to improve the sleep quality of firefighters and paramedics at the County Fire Department. Lawrence Douglas. Better sleep could improve the physical and quick decision-making of first responders in the stressful work encountered in life-or-death situations. In the report, Nancy Hamilton, associate professor of social and behavioral sciences and psychology at KU, wrote: “Because firefighters and paramedics have sleeping quarters on the job, they experience a different sleeping environment from the most people, with less control over light, noise and bedding – and with sleep often interrupted to rush into an emergency.
Recognizing the increase in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in all emergency departments, the topic of mental health and recent research on the design of medical facilities used to reduce stress will be included in other programs of conference.
In 2014, at the first fire station design conference, the main focus was on fire station location selection and the basics of fire station design and construction. Over the years, the conference program has grown and evolved. The 2022 conference begins with an overview of the design process, through the operations of a shared fire, EMS or first aid facility, but among four tracks, topics quickly expand to cover trends , innovations and updates on new building materials to extend the use of the building beyond 50 years and beyond.