Badly Needed Renovations to U.S. Firehouses Could Cost $100B, NFPA Study Shows

A new NFPA report found that more than 21,000 firehouses across the nation are beyond 40 years of age and in need of significant overhauls.

QUINCY, Mass. — America’s desperate need to invest in decaying infrastructure extends to aging firehouses, according to a new report released by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The report, “Renovation Needs of the U.S. Fire Service,” shows that more than 21,000 firehouses across the nation — representing 43% of all such facilities — are beyond 40 years of age and in need of repairs. Total replacement costs are estimated to range from $70 billion to $100 billion, depending on space needs, location, site condition and department preferences.

The report draws on data found in the NFPA’s “Fourth Needs Assessment for the U.S. Fire Service,” a survey conducted in 2015 that compares what fire departments actually have with what existing standards, government regulations and other guidance documents state as being required in order to be safe and effective. Relevant case studies were also considered as part of the research project, the NFPA states in a press release.

The objective of the renovations study was to determine how old firehouses are today, and what it would cost to rebuild current, compliant structures that keep first responders safe from harm at their workplace.

The report identifies the number of stations that are more than 40-years old; are not equipped with exhaust emission control; are without backup power; do not have separate facilities for female firefighters; and need mold remediation.

Other key findings from the NFPA report include:

  • 61% of fire stations that are more than 40 years old are serving communities with less than 9,999 people.
  • A shortage of funding, tighter budgets and a lack of grants are likely reasons for the large number of older stations.
  • 29,120 fire stations (59%) in the U.S. are not equipped with exhaust emission control systems, which are critical for mitigating firefighter exposure to diesel fumes. These fumes can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, cardiopulmonary disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer.
  • Assistance to Firefighter Grants have helped reduce the number of firehouses without exhaust emission control systems from 66% to 59%.
  • Approximately 17,030 fire stations (35%) do not have access to backup power, which is critical for business continuity during an emergency event. When the power is out, firehouses without generators may run into issues with phones ringing, computers running, trucks being fueled, and garage bay doors opening. The cost to install backup generators runs between $850 million and $1.7 billion.
  • When fire stations were built 40-plus years ago, departments were exclusively male. Today, the most recent Needs Assessment estimates that 10% of career firefighters are female. The number of males and females in a particular fire department typically varies based on whether the fire company is career, volunteer or combination, as well as the size of the community. Further research is needed today to determine the number of stations that do not provide separate facilities for female firefighters and the estimated cost to renovate these stations.
  • The number of firehouses affected by mold is unknown, despite common perceptions that stations are susceptible given water damage, prolonged humidity, or dampness. All fire stations should allocate resources for mold prevention including dehumidifiers, proper ventilation, mold inhibitors, and mold-killing cleaning products to reduce the likelihood of seasonal allergy and pneumonia-like symptoms.

The complete “Renovation Needs of the U.S. Fire Service” can be downloaded here. For a broader understanding of fire service needs and trends, download the “Fourth Needs Assessment for the U.S. Fire Service” here.

About the Author

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Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for latimes.com. Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

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