Fire Station 20, Seattle

Shaping a Sustainable Fire Station
Hpb Winter2018 Aman P3
Fire Station 20 sets a new high-performance design standard for Seattle facilities.

Seattle’s old Fire Station 20 was so cramped some firefighters slept on movable cots in the TV room or kitchen between runs. Even worse, the station did not meet emergency response operational requirements. The modern station has plenty of room for all its necessary functions and meets modern emergency response requirements. Best of all, it achieved an ambitious sustainable design agenda. 

When Seattle’s Fire Facilities and Emergency Response Levy passed in 2003, the 55-year-old Station 20 was in poor condition and had reached the end of its useful building life. It was also one of the smallest stations in the system. In addition to the problem of insufficient bunk rooms, physical training equipment and free weights shared space with hose dryers, lockers and Engine 20 in the apparatus bay. 

In 2009, the Seattle City Council authorized purchasing two vacant parcels and two small properties along the east side of 15th Avenue West, a major arterial that runs through the Interbay industrial zone connecting downtown with the Queen Anne and Ballard neighborhoods for a new two-engine bay station. 

In the five years following the purchase (from 2010 to 2014 when the new station opened), the station’s emergency response calls increased by nearly 13%, a reflection of the changing neighborhood and the fast growing population of Seattle. 

Siting Challenge
Relocating the station to the new site improves response coverage and reduces gaps in service to the rapidly evolving Interbay, Queen Anne and Magnolia neighborhoods. Given the highly visible site, the City also identified the project as an opportunity to create a strong civic presence for the fire department. The building fills the transitional gap between large-scale industrial and warehouse buildings to the south with multifamily residences and condominiums to the north.


Figure 1 Sustainability Features

The City challenged the design team to achieve a high level of sustainability. The A/E team used strategies across all disciplines to achieve LEED Platinum status. The result was the highest LEED-rated fire station in the United States when certified in 2015.


Environmental Standard for the City
The City of Seattle has used the LEED Rating System for city-owned facilities since 2000. Over the years, the City has continually raised the bar for high performance buildings, resulting in an increasing number of LEED Gold certified facilities.

For Fire Station 20, the City chose to exceed their own standards and challenged the design team to create a building that met the criteria for LEED Platinum certification (v2009). Through an ambitious sustainable design agenda, the project achieved 98 points and LEED Platinum status, making it the highest-scoring fire station in the country in 2015.

The project also follows the guidelines set in the Architecture 2030 Challenge, which is designed to significantly reduce carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption, with long-term goals to have all new buildings be carbon neutral. The steps taken in the design for Fire Station 20 are intended to meet the 2015 targets for the Architecture 2030 Challenge.

Native, drought-tolerant plants are used to buffer the industrial character of the street to the station. Requiring little water, plantings help configure an entry plaza and visually tie natural elements to the steep slope of the site. Portions of the station incorporate green roofs, further reducing pervious area and helping reduce and filter storm water. Proximity to the nearby Lake Washington Ship Canal, an important link to salmon migration and other aquatic life, influences the overall storm water management strategies. Water falling on the roof is directed to a bioretention planter where it is filtered by plant and soil composition. Water from impervious pavement areas is handled by a series of filters at catch basins before connection to the city system.

Station crew members requested a dedicated area to grow vegetables. An accessible area that capitalizes on the summer sun allows firefighters to grow and harvest food for the meals they prepare and share together, reinforcing a prideful tradition.

Energy Reduction Strategies
The design team took an aggressive approach to energy conservation. Energy modeling simulated the building’s energy consumption throughout the design process. The final system selections were evaluated through a customized energy model to assess the 30-year performance of the ground source heat pump, as well as stand-alone simulations of HVAC coils, which directly use ground source water for cooling during swing seasons.

Heating and cooling is provided by a ground source water-to-water heat pump system. A flat-plate heat exchanger recovers energy from the relief airstream to the fresh outdoor airstream. The 35 kW photovoltaic (PV) array on the roof provides 27% of the energy used by the station.


Figure 2 Zoning Diagram

Multizone Control: As part of the programming from the fire department and City of Seattle, past fire stations did not have enough zoning to provide a level of comfort desired by the firefighters. The zoning was a key part of this design based on specific requirements of the crew members. When a crew member is returning from an emergency, having building zones to support cool down, lower body temperature and reduce physical stress is key. A combination of radiant floor at support spaces and the apparatus bay and variable air volume (VAV) equipment creates an ability to zone at a multifaceted level. 


Because the site is highly visible by residential property up the hill, the design team sought to balance the arrangement of the PV array, stepped landscape and green roofs as the buildings “fifth façade.” LED fixtures, occupancy sensors and daylight harvesting further increase the electrical energy savings.

Energy performance in any fire station is a primary design challenge due to the demands of the apparatus bay and the nature of large bay doors that open frequently. To mitigate the heat loss that occurs during frequent crew deployment, the apparatus bay contains a radiant floor heating system, which together with the thermal mass of the concrete walls and floor, allows the temperature of the internal environment to rebound efficiently.

Meanwhile, the residential portion of the building is served by a central heat recovery air-handling unit with dedicated variable air volume (VAV) units and temperature sensors that allow for individual zone control (Figure 2). The ground source water-to-water heat pump system provides an opportunity to create a variety of zones that support a firefighter’s daily routine of work, training and rest/sleep.

The energy use intensity (EUI) shows a 70% energy savings over a typical fire station. At a building area of 9,446 ft2, the 2016 EUI equates to 34.15 kBtu/ft2·yr.

Work / Life
Efficient Layout. The design is based on the premise of maximizing efficiencies within the building while minimizing deployment time during emergency response. A single centralized stair simplifies movement between levels. Bunks are located on the first floor to enhance safety during nighttime deployment and minimize overall response time. The station houses one engine company with space to also accommodate an EMS vehicle.


Figure 3 Site and First Floor

The compact site plan accommodates the large vehicle turning radius while addressing the sustainability goals of storm water management and native plantings.


Quality Environment. Large triple-glazed windows bring daylight into the building interior, while mitigating outside noise. Living spaces are independently zone controlled for heating and cooling to meet the diverse needs of the firefighters. The beanery (kitchen/dining room), dayroom and physical training rooms are located on the second floor to maximize access to daylight and views. The station uses durable materials to withstand the demands of firefighter use and for ease of maintenance.

Station layout divides the building in half with two distinctive sides. The apparatus bay and apparatus support spaces are referred to as the “dirty” side because the engine, equipment and bunker gear return from emergencies with hazardous materials and harmful particulates. To decontaminate the crew and their gear, this side of the building has a walk-in shower and a special washing machine known as an extractor. Crew lockers and storage spaces are heated using a radiant floor slab, keeping uniforms dry and in a consistent environment designed to prolong their life, as uniforms go through extreme wear and tear.

The station office and living quarters are referred to as the “clean” side. This half of the building is where the crew spends many hours preparing meals, working out, resting, watching TV, and completing paperwork. These spaces are designed to support crew comfort. Thermal zone and lighting controls allow the building to respond to the unique needs of individuals to aid recovery from the stresses encountered during emergency response.

Community Engagement
Fire Station 20 attempts to educate the community on how public buildings can use sustainable strategies without sacrificing program space. Strategically located site signage invites the public on a self-guided tour of the station’s sustainable systems. A low energy flip-dot sign along the 15th Avenue West arterial is connected to the building’s control system and displays real-time information on energy, water and carbon savings. •

About the Author
Eric Aman
is a principal with Schacht Aslani Architects in Seattle.

Categories: Mission Critical