There’s no doubt that the world needs fire stations. Without them, it would be hard to organize, train, and motivate firefighters and impossible to store and maintain fire trucks, fire engines, firefighting equipment, etc. But recently a mayor in a Midwestern city, according to Firehouse magazine, was caught complaining about how much money the city had to spend on a fire station. Was he right to do so?
An average fire station (in current times) costs between 2 and 10 million dollars to build. The total cost will vary based on area, size, specifications, and current material and construction labor costs.
This is a pretty broad range and some stations may even be more or less expensive to build. Let’s take a look at this more closely.
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What Is A Fire Station?
It might help to confirm what a fire station is before we look at how much it costs.
A fire station (or variously fire hall, firehouse, firemen’s hall, or even engine house) is a building used for storing and maintaining firefighting equipment (this includes trucks, engines, personal protective equipment, etc.) and individual firefighters and all supporting staff.
In the United States, fire stations are often named. Sometimes, based on the location and in other cases after the fire company that is based in the station or even after the equipment (think “Ladder 49” for an example).
The Facilities In A Fire Station
A fire station will need to have a garage to store a minimum of one fire engine and potentially more. It will need to have storage space for additional equipment, though it’s worth noting that a lot of firefighting gear for practical reasons is stored on or in a fire engine.
There may be a drill tower too and/or a hose tower. The former is for carrying out exercises simulating rescue in high-rise buildings, and a hose tower is for drying hoses on. These towers also played an additional role in the days before telephones, they could be manned, and firefighters would watch for fires breaking out nearby.
If the station is used by full-time firefighting teams it will also need quarters for them to live, as well as work areas to work in between calls. If their shift system requires them to sleep in the building, a firefighter’s dormitory will also need to be present.
There may also need to be some form of formal alarm system to help reach everyone in the building when a call comes in.
One thing that is slowly disappearing from fire stations in the traditional fireman’s pole which was used to get from one floor to the garage rapidly, but now the National Fire Protection Association has recommended their removal as they may pose a safety hazard.
Finally, there needs to be a place for any support staff, and this can include an office setup.
Also read: Do Firefighters Sleep at the Station?
How Much Does A Fire Station Cost To Build?
Fire stations don’t retail for a set price and there’s nobody out there that sells fire stations off the shelf. It would be handy, sometimes, if they did – you could place an order on a Monday and have a fire station in place by Friday, but sadly, that’s not how it works.
Each fire station is a unique and individual project, and the costs can vary dramatically based on a whole host of factors.
Factors In Fire Station Costs
Firstly, there’s the cost of the land. It ought to be obvious but if you need to build a fire station in Manhattan, it’s going to set you back a lot more for the land than it would if you built one in rural Ohio.
Then there’s the size of the land required – a small part-time volunteer fire station simply won’t need the kind of resources that a full-time fire station with a wide remit in a big city might require. The bigger the fire station, the more it’s going to cost.
Then you have the cost of labor, the bigger the fire station, the more men and women that will need to work on the construction. The same is true for contractor costs.
Next up there are architectural fees, again, there’s no standard fire station model used in the United States. That means each fire station must be built to a custom design that is meant to adequately serve the needs of a fire department.
Finally, for the construction, you have the material costs to consider. The more fire station you have, the more glass, concrete, brick, roofing tiles, etc. that you may need to build it. Then there’s lighting, cabling, ports, furnishings, etc.
Then there may be additional costs associated with the project due to financing. Not every fire station is built with money that a city just has lying around, they may need to borrow to pay for it and that means they will need to pay interest on that loan until it’s repaid, that’s an extra cost that has to be accounted for.
This video goes into some more detail about fire station costs:
Example Costs Of Fire Station Projects
This means that the cost of building a fire station can vary dramatically, as we noted at the beginning in Plant City they built a fire station for just over $3 million in 2017, but in Leawood, the costs of their new fire station were running at $7 million in 2020!
What seems clear is that each project is going to be developed by the city that the fire department is attached to, usually, after the land has been acquired, then an architect is brought in to develop the design and put together cost estimates.
These estimates can vary and grow with time. The Plant City costings had a 12% contingency built into the plan in case the needs of the project changed as construction commenced. Over in Leawood, their cost estimate went from $6 million in 2019 to $7 million a year later due to changing requirements.
We would note that in the Plant City article, they also lay out the costs for different fire stations based on a per square foot cost, but they offer costs in the local vicinity ranging from $250 per square foot to $319 per square foot and that’s the variation in a small geographical area where land costs or land rental costs aren’t likely to show enormous variation.
If you want to know how much your local fire station cost to build, it might be easiest to Google it rather than try and calculate the cost from any set of mathematical principles or a cost formula because there isn’t one.
How Are Fire Stations Built?
Fire stations are built in response to an identified need. Cities, by and large, do not have a huge sum of spare money to build facilities on a whim, instead, they will build a fire station for one of two main reasons:
- For some reason or another a replacement is required for an existing fire station. This may be due, for example, to the building falling into disrepair or it might be that the value of the land the fire station is on has soared and it would be more economic for the city to sell the land and replace the fire station.
- For some reason or another a new fire station is required when no fire station was present before. This might be, for example, because a large new residential unit or industrial zone has been constructed and now requires the support of a dedicated fire brigade (or more) to ensure the safety of the people and property there.
Once the need is identified, the city will then start to examine possible locations as well as hire some sort of project management team to get an estimated view of costs.
As we’ve already seen, the costs will vary from project to project, but building a fire station is not cheap. The mayor of the Midwestern City that we mentioned at the start wanted to know why a fire station couldn’t be built for less than $500,000?
This is, of course, roughly the same cost as a newly built home in many parts of the country. Sadly, a newly built home wouldn’t be big enough to accommodate all the demands of the fire service assuming you had to park engines there, allow for work, rest, etc. facilities.
Once the project team has located a site and had an architect scope out the requirements, they will have architectural drawings, etc. from which the construction can take place.
During this phase, there will be many considerations in addition to the basic needs of the fire station including:
- Community planning – how can the fire station and the apparatus blend in with the community and be accessible to members of that community?
- Green considerations – it’s not the 1960s anymore, everyone is aware that there are environmental standards to meet. Installing solar panels or conforming to specific LEED ratings will need to be planned for and paid for.
- Collaboration – smart planning seeks to maximize the value of a facility, this might be done by partnering with other agencies, fire departments training facilities or community groups.
This phase alone can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, prior to any groundbreaking taking place.
Construction is then done following the plans provided, with changes made as the need arises for change in the plans.
This can cost additional money, it’s why the Plant City budget allowed for contingency spending if they’d allocated every penny, they had without this – if a serious change was required it could halt construction until the necessary funds were budgeted for and located.
Then, when construction is complete or as it is being completed, they will need to hire the fire crew, buy the necessary equipment, furnish the interiors, install electric systems, etc.
Building a fire station is a big job and not at all straightforward.
This video talks about what it takes to design and build a modern fire station:
How Long Does It Take To Build A Fire Station?
One interesting article online claims that the average time to build a fire station is just four weeks. Unfortunately, we found plenty of other articles showing that the design and build stages can take, quite literally years.
We’d note that this is one of those “how long is a piece of string” questions too. We can absolutely believe that a project might take four weeks if it was for a small fire station where budget, land, etc. had already been secured by the time design and build began.
We can also believe that complex projects take years to complete. This is the nature of fire stations.