public-safety facility

Public-safety facility co-locates first responders

Richmond brings fire and ambulance services under one roof in urban B.C. first
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
By Michelle Ervin

This isn’t a traditional fire station of arched bays and red brick.

That’s by design, says Robert Lange, principal-in-charge, Assembly Architecture. The City of Richmond prides itself on being innovative, explains senior project manager Martin Younis, and it sought to construct a modern facility.

Its bays have flat roofs and its bricks are neutral-coloured, incorporating the primary red that has come to be associated with fire fighters sparingly, as an accent. The bold hue was used in cladding that frames the station’s name and wraps around a rooftop courtyard (pictured above in the rear elevation).

Lange found other subtle ways to conjure the imagery of the traditional fire station envisioned by the first responders who would be moving into the facility. Transparency was used to showcase the instantly recognizable emergency vehicles within.

“People love seeing fire trucks,” he said, “so one of the significant features is there’s a lot of glass on the front.”

It’s not just its modern design that makes Cambie Fire Hall No. 3 and Richmond North Ambulance Station (No. 250) stand out. The $20.7-million facility became the first in a major urban centre in B.C. to bring fire and ambulance services under one roof when it opened last fall.

Assembly Architecture worked in partnership with S2 Architecture on the design of the 26,000-square-foot facility. The facility consists of a three-storey building that bisects six emergency vehicle bays — two for fire trucks, two for ambulances and two for emergency vehicle repairs. A stair that scales the height of the building on the interior is designed to create a lantern-like effect on the exterior as illumination filters through translucent glass.

“The stair lights up, defining this anchor for the neighbourhood, this symbol of safety,” said Lange.

Cambie Fire Hall No. 3 is one of the last of the City of Richmond’s seven fire halls to undergo renewal in recent years. The new facility replaced the Bridgeport Fire Hall, which was built in the 1950s and tagged for an upgrade more than a decade ago.

The lease for Richmond North Ambulance Station’s former location was expiring around the same time, which prompted British Columbia Emergency Health Services to propose co-locating. Younis said the details of the partnership were hashed out on paper before shovels went into the ground. The City of Richmond would own the shared facility and the province’s ambulance services provider would lease space for 20 years, providing opportunities for closer collaboration.

“This modern facility will support the critical role paramedics play in providing patient care to the community and enhance our working relationship with the Richmond Fire-Rescue,” said Linda Lupini, executive vice president of British Columbia Emergency Health Services.

The three residential lots assembled by the City of Richmond in advance of the project made for a tight site given the programming, said Lange. He explained that the emergency vehicle bays must be located at street level and measure to specific dimensions.

That led to the vertical stacking of the living quarters, offices and training classrooms in the three-storey building. Similarly, the rooftop courtyard was a response to the lack of available space at grade, which was occupied by the front driveway, side parking lot and rear outdoor training area.

The site may be tight for what it accommodates, but the facility itself represents extra square footage for the Richmond North Ambulance Station, which can park as many as six ambulances in its two bays.

“The increased space also makes this one of the largest ambulance stations in the Lower Mainland, providing large new crew headquarters and a quiet room that will help paramedics decompress after responding to a call,” said Lupini.

Building Fire Hall No. 3 anew meant complying with post-disaster standards, which became mandatory for this type of public-safety facility long after the original station was built in the 1950s. Lange explained that, as a designated Department Operations Centre, it’s expected to contribute to response efforts when emergencies occur. To do so, the building needs to be able to not only withstand catastrophic events, but also stay up and running in their immediate aftermath.

The City of Richmond is located within the Cascadia Subduction zone, which has witnessed magnitude-9.0 earthquakes in the past. Warnings about the threat of this type of mega-thrust event have ratcheted up in recent years as it has historically occurred every 300 to 800 years, according to Natural Resources Canada. The most recent one was recorded in 1700.

This is the most serious of the three types of seismic events Trevor Whitney, partner at Bush Bohlman, said factored into the structural engineering firm’s work on the project. He said the facility’s location in Richmond posed a few particular risks.

The low-lying site needed to be protected from flooding, which was accomplished by elevating it more than a metre using fill and supporting it using a raft foundation. The site was also buffered using apron slabs and retaining walls on all sides except the street front where the emergency vehicles enter and exit. And the soft soil characteristic of the area needed to be protected from liquefying like quicksand, as it is vulnerable to in the event of an earthquake, which was accomplished by drilling into the ground and forming columns from stone.

“We tried to avoid the use of masonry for this building, which is a common building material that you see used in fire halls — this kind of classic image of a red-brick building,” added Whitney. “Often, the first images you see every time there’s an earthquake around the world are of damaged masonry buildings, so we think that going with a concrete and steel structure was a more resilient design from a post-disaster perspective.”

Richmond is not the first jurisdiction in Canada to bring fire rescue and emergency health services under one roof — there are examples of this in Alberta, where S2 Architecture hails from. It likely won’t be the last jurisdiction to adopt this integrated model either.

Younis predicted that other cities will follow the example set by Richmond, although he added that the ambulance bays are flexibly designed to accommodate fire trucks in case BC Ambulance Services leaves at the end of its lease. The anticipated benefits of integrating fire and ambulance services are the potential cost savings of sharing space and the potential improvement in response of dispatching two groups that attend many of the same calls from the same location.

“I think it’s been way more efficient,” said Younis, “and I think after a year or two of operations we will have enough data to support any kind of business case to do this elsewhere.”

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.

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