Honesty, integrity, professionalism, and accountability.
Meyer Najem recently partnered with DELV Design, the City of Fishers, and firefighters from Station 91 to construct a new fire station and headquarters in the heart of Downtown Fishers. Plans for this $8.3 million project were initiated in 2018 and construction is nearing completion, with station employees preparing to move into the new building in June.
“Some of the key pillars of our community are public safety organizations,” said Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness. “With this being the home of our fire department, it will allow residents to know that in Downtown Fishers, they can find those key institutions.”
Designers for this project worked closely with Fishers firefighters to create a station that meets the rapidly changing needs of firefighters in their growing community. During the planning process, Fishers Fire Chief Steve Orusa and Station 91 House Captain Todd Rielage wanted DELV and Meyer Najem to create a building that reflects the station’s core values: Honesty, integrity, professionalism, and accountability.
“Fishers is a smart, vibrant, entrepreneurial city,” said Jeremy Welu, design architect for DELV. “And firefighters have this long history and tradition for what they do and take great pride in keeping us safe.”
With their core values in mind, Rielage said he worked diligently with fellow firefighters and designers to accomplish three main goals for the new building. They wanted an aesthetically pleasing station that both enhances the station’s functionality and maintains the deep-rooted traditions of Fishers firefighters.
Downtown Fishers is rapidly expanding as new buildings pop up in the city every year, so it was important for those involved with the project to build a station that fits in naturally with its surrounding buildings.
“Aesthetically, it’s a beautiful station that I think everybody in the city will be proud of when they drive past,” Rielage said.
The new building combines a classic fire station look with contemporary design features. Innovative lighting systems and updated signage around the building make it stand out, especially at night. Welu said his firm enjoyed the challenge of designing a firestation that serves as both a firehouse and an administrative headquarters. He said each part of the structure is designed to reflect the values of its regular inhabitants, so the fire station area features classic red brick masonry with large, four-fold doors, while the headquarters side of the structure includes metal panels that Welu said reflect the progressive and entrepreneurial spirit of Fishers.
“The side of the building that faces Municipal Drive with its lighting, brick, stone, and garage look beautifully traditional with a little modern touch,” Chief Orusa said.
Those designing the station aimed to create a building that distinguishes itself in the community while also enhancing the overall aesthetic of Downtown Fishers.
“It’s a pretty elite building for the area,” said Brent Bauters, senior project manager at Meyer Najem. “It really stands out, but it also blends in with the surrounding area.”
Fire stations can feature many impressive design elements, but their primary purpose is to serve their communities.
“You can design the Taj Mahal of fire stations, but are you really doing a service to the taxpayer if it’s not functional?” Rielage said.
Rielage said it was critical for him and his fellow firefighters to work in a building that both enhances their abilities to do their job and ensures their long-term health.
“If you take care of the boots on the ground and give them what they need to be successful, then everybody’s going to win,” Rielage said. “We can do our job better, we can get there faster, and we can be safer about it, and that in turn translates into safer, quicker, and better remedies for the citizen that calls 911.”
Certain aspects of the old fire station were in desperate need of improvements, and Rielage served as the liason between the design team and firefighters to determine which design elements should be added or removed from the new building. One key concern expressed by many firefighters was the safety of their personal protective gear (PPE) and the storage area in which this firefighting equipment was kept.
In the old building, firefighters would come back from a fire and store their gear on racks that exposed the entire station to possible lingering carcinogens. These PPE racks also exposed the gear to UV light, which is known to damage the equipment. Rielage and other Station 91 employees lobbied for a new approach to PPE storage in the new station.
Now, Station 91 features an isolated PPE room right off the apparatus bays that is negatively pressured, causing any remaining contaminants to be taken up and out of the building instead of being blown into their living space. The new PPE room also prevents UV light from damaging the equipment.
“There are probably 40 of those types of places around the station where we were able to massage a new way of thinking into this building,” Rielage said.
Firehouses are unique because they function not only as workplaces, but also serve as part-time homes for firefighters who work long hours. Meyer Najem Principal and Project Executive Kevin McGovern said his team worked closely with DELV and Station 91 employees to create more comfortable living spaces in the station. The new building features an outdoor kitchen that allows firefighters to feel more a part of their community, as well as individual bunk rooms that will help firefighters get higher quality sleep.
“Health-wise, there are so many things we were trying to address with this design, and I think it all worked really well in the end,” Welu said.
As Fishers has grown from a small community outside Indianapolis into a bustling city on the rise, the Fishers Fire Department has evolved alongside it.
“It was a small, rural community that has experienced phenomenal growth,” Chief Orusa said.
Chief Orusa said the Fishers Fire Department has expanded rapidly over the past decade, going from an organization consisting of mostly volunteers to a department that now employs full-time workers. Although the department has undergone substantial changes in recent years, those who work at the station maintain traditions established by those who came before them.
“The fire service has a very steep tradition,” Rielage said. “We want tradition to carry over from one building to the next.”
Meyer Najem and DELV knew that keeping with tradition was important to Fishers firefighters, but they were pleasantly surprised to see the level of engagement they got from station employees. Welu said his team spoke with firefighters from every shift to fully understand their goals for the new station, and those employees were more than willing to provide input.
“In the past, I’ve ran into owners who aren’t too involved and at the end they throw their hands up and say, ‘Oh that’s not what I was thinking, that’s not what I wanted,’ but the fire department has been extremely hands-on,” Bauters said.
Rielage and his coworkers sought to accomplish their mission of maintaining tradition by incorporating historic Fishers artifacts into the new building. One of these objects is the original 30-year-old fire pole that was used in the old station. A new design was not going to allow for this pole to be moved into the new building, so Rielage and other Station 91 employees sent the pole to Boston, where it was first built, and had the pole extended so it could be installed in the new station.
Another historic artifact that firefighters wanted preserved was the “house siren.” Used in the 1950s and 60’s by the Fishers Fire Department to alert firefighters to a call, this siren was out of commission for years and was set to be torn down for another project in the coming months. Rielage knew such a fundamental piece of Fishers history should be saved, so the fire department used their ladder truck to remove the siren from the old silo where it laid dormant and had it refurbished. It now sits atop the hose tower of the new station and the department plans on sounding it for special ceremonies and retirements.
“It’s neat to have that little piece of Fishers firefighting history reworked and mounted in an area of prominence on the new station,” Rielage said.
As Station 91 employees begin moving into their new station this month, there is tangible excitement amongst those who made it all happen.
“The design process has been so rewarding, the build process has been so rewarding,” Rielage said. “We just can’t wait to get in there.”
Written By: Jack Quigley, Building Excellence Mangazine