Fire stations of the world: White River Fire Department Station 53, Indiana, US
White River Fire Department Station 53 and HQ was marked into service on 18 November 2020. The combination firehouse and headquarters consists contains 23 840 square feet of living and office space. The building includes two floors, 3,5 bays as well as the department’s fire-ever fire pole. This station replaced the former Station 53, which is in the direct path of the I-69 project and will be demolished. White River Fire Department officials worked closely with the Indiana Department of Transportation to secure funds to replace the existing firehouse. The fire station serves a community of 35 000 people and answers around 3 200 emergency calls per year. It functions as a combination firehouse, headquarters and sheriff’s substation. The new fire station 53 implemented some unique features such as a safe baby system, decontamination zones and separate siren systems.
This unique concept sits on the corner of Pleasant Grove Elementary School, a desire expressed by the school corporation to facilitate quick response times in the event of an active shooter incident, medical emergency and during fire drills.
The entire station is divided into red, yellow and green zones which indicate the level of contamination. Special consideration was given to the layout and ventilation of these areas to facilitate the rapid removal of exhaust carcinogens and combustible vapours in the apparatus bay, as well as preventing fumes and vapours from reaching the interior living areas.
Great consideration was given to the private sleeping quarters in order to protect the sleep of the emergency response teams. EMS and fire service sirens are on separate systems and set to ring with increasing volume so that when a call comes in, only those who need to respond are awakened.
Redefining public safety
Safety was the top priority as fire department leaders, school officials and Indiana Department of Transportation representatives worked to determine the location and design. The location of the new station provides an additional level of safety for the children in the schools next door and gives the fire department quick access to Morgantown Road, which is a major north-south route through the Centre Grove area.
The move puts the station about 2,5 miles from its previous location, which has led to concerns about response times on the far west side of the county. All three of the township’s fire stations will be east of the interstate, which will become a major construction zone in the next year or two.
"There’s always that concern. We want to give everyone the best response time we can. But this station gives us good travel paths, and we’ll be able to get down there quickly," Chief Pell said. The station off State Road 37 was actually in a great location, Chief Pell said. But losing multiple access roads with the construction of the highway created a challenge for public safety crews in the Centre Grove area. "When it’s an interstate and in our fire district and we only have two places to get on that interstate and limited crossovers, you really need to change how you approach responses," Chief Pell said. Once the highway is built through the county, the new station will allow crews to quickly run up to County Line Road and meet all the southbound lanes or run down to Smith Valley Road and catch all the northbound lanes, he added.
Another obstacle was determining how to keep traffic flowing as parents, school buses and employees travel to and from Pleasant Grove Elementary School and fire fighters head to emergencies. Traffic lights were added where the connector road from the school and fire station intersects with both Morgantown and Fairview roads, which allows fire fighters and school officials to control traffic during peak times in the mostly residential area.
Centre Grove Community Schools and the Indiana Department of Transportation were partners in the move.
The new station cost about $7,5 million, with INDOT paying for most of it. Federal law required that the state pay for the relocation of the fire station because the move is due to a construction project. The fire department contributed about $1 million. Centre Grove schools sold the 2,3-acre site to the state and entered a new partnership with the fire department.
"The Indiana Department of Transportation funded the functional replacement of that old station, which is a big deal," Chief Pell said. "Since they’re building the interstate, they recognise that we essentially had to redefine public safety."
Planning for future growth
The new firehouse is about 24 000 square feet, compared to the old station which occupied about 17 000 square feet of space. The bigger station will accommodate more people and more, modern fire trucks. Six vehicles, including ambulances and tactical rigs, will be housed at the new station with room for more.
"We didn’t just replace a fire station. We replaced an administrative headquarters and a department that’s grown, significantly, over the last 18 years," said Chief Pell.
“We’re having to adjust for 20 years of growth,” he said during the groundbreaking last October. “We have a much bigger department now. We have more full-time people. We have more people on duty at any given time.”
The old Fire Station No 53 was built in 2001. At that time, Centre Grove had significantly fewer residents. The department made 1 370 runs that year. By comparison, White River Township fire crews made more than 3 200 runs in 2018.
This year, the department averages about nine runs a day.
On the administration side, the new fire station provides a conference room for staff meetings and to consult on bigger emergencies, and a break room, which the administrative staff did not have at the old station. An additional office is ready to go as the department grows and needs more space.
The department is hoping to bring on an EMS manager in the future, said Chief Pell. "As our society ages, we have a big impact by getting them to the hospital early, so Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is key to what we do," he said.
"As quickly as the Centre Grove area is growing, I don’t want the community to have to add on to this fire station because we didn’t think of something. We did think of it and we built in some flexible spaces so that we can, in a very cost-effective way, expand if we need to."
The new space also features open office areas for fire prevention staff and sheriff’s deputies who need a place to work on reports or tackle other duties without having to drive to Franklin. The fire station will serve as a sub-station for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.
The fitness room is twice as big, a request from the staff that Chief Pell was on board with due to a growing need for fire fighters to be healthier, he said. "I would say they designed the vast majority of it," Pell said of his team. A committee made up of fire fighters who will work at the station reviewed and approved design plans as they were developed.
Other changes along those same lines include a separate space for the team’s fire gear and uniforms, all of which was stored in the main bay area at the old station and a separate washroom for those clothes. There is a suspicion that the contaminants in the fire gear lead to cancer, he said.
And for the first time, the department has a fire pole, something none of the district’s stations have ever had. "The legitimate business need for that is you can get downstairs quicker," said Chief Pell, chuckling.
But a lot of it is more of the same and there’s a reason for that. As a cost-saving measure, Chief Pell decided to move a lot of the furniture and kitchen appliances from the old station.
"We were smart with the money. We struck a smart balance that allows us to serve the community well for more than 50 years without overspending," he said.
Personal space a priority
Upstairs, in the living quarters, personal space was big on Pell’s wish list. The department did away with traditional bunk rooms. Now, the six fire fighters on any given shift have their own bedrooms per se, shared spaces but not with anyone on duty at the same time. And they share a bathroom with one other person, a far cry from the old station’s communal bathroom and locker room.
"Male, female, sexual orientation, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that these are people (who) protect our community, and they know that they have their space where they can be comfortable and relax and be ready to take an emergency," he said. "It’s looking at the social issues of sexual orientation and other differences - male, female, religious beliefs. It’s not about that here. It’s about how we take care of people the way we would want to be taken care of."
They also added a "quiet room," another place firefighters or EMS personnel can escape to when they need a moment to themselves, to recoup from a mentally or physically taxing run or just be alone with their thoughts.
"When you have six people living together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we all need some quiet time; we all need our personal space," Pell said.
‘This community’s firehouse’
The new firehouse is centrally located in White River Township, and sits within eyeshot of two Centre Grove schools.
"I cannot wait for the first classroom (of students) to walk in here and see our big Maltese cross and this antique fire engine that our fire fighters refurbished and Walters body shop painted for us," Chief Pell said. "I love being a fire fighter and I can’t tell you how excited I am to share that passion with the community and the kids in these schools."
With that in mind, the new fire station’s community room, where the department hosts field trips, community events, birthday parties and Homeowners Association meetings, among other events, is about 50 percent bigger. It holds 50 to 90 people depending on how many tables and chairs are needed.
INDOT will use the room for construction meetings with stakeholders.
"What I wanted to make sure we did was continue to be this community’s firehouse. That’s extremely important to us. We serve the community and this is a safe place that the community can use. We want them to visit" said Chief Pell.
"This fire station is going to be this beautiful cornerstone of public safety in the Centre Grove area. We will be able to protect people in this community with better resources and have a positive impact on the quality of life."
Sources: Axis Architecture, Daily Journal, Heroes Next Door