To fulfill the daily requirements as a firefighter or first responder of an agency, methods need to be taught, behaviors need to be practiced and dangerous and challenging situations to be simulated. As much as possible realistic training in a state-of-the-art facility therefore is the most essential part for the responders.
When it comes to design and planning a training facility for firefighters or first responders how often does a City, Region, State or a Chief Fire Officer and their teams are confronted with that task? Most of them might do it just once in their career or while responsible in that position since training facilities do have an expected “Lifetime” of 25 to 30 years.
There are a couple of ways doing it: either you do it yourself with a local architect/engineering team facing many hurdles and making a lot of mistakes others already have done or you are involving subject matter experts with the experience you need to make your facility a success story. The decision is with the client but here is some input that could help at least to start with.
To do it right the design of training facilities needs to be divided into multiple phases:
Before starting the design some “homework” needs to be done. Normally this is a team effort and all involved departments would be requested to thoroughly analyze their needs. This should be done by comparing the actual status of the facility with the equipment in use and a comparison of what is good or bad, what was helpful in the daily business and what needs to be optimized.
Another important aspect is to think about where you want to be in the future. What would be the challenges upcoming due to new technologies like hazardous goods, batteries in cars, development of more environmental clean sources for energy, etc.? Technology is changing fast! All this could have an impact on your requirements for high-tech training and the selection of your training equipment.
More and more training facilities will be used by multiple agencies and that makes total sense since the requirements are not much different and equipment, systems and building could become useful for multiple scenarios if selected and designed to the needs.
A very important aspect in the planning is the question: How much is my new training facility going to cost.
Site and infrastructure cost are costly and difficult to estimate but the technical equipment, installations and systems in most cases do have a big impact on the overall cost. After the analysis is completed and the “shopping” list is prepared the cost needs to be identified and compared with the available budget. Sometimes the wish-list needs to be adjusted to meet the budget but there are possibilities to reduce the cost and save money by looking into it from outside of the box. Some of the buildings could have a multiple use and there is no need to design a training room for each and every training scenario. A proper done layout of floors inside the building with multiple ways of access and routes will provide different scenarios and challenging training situations. In most cases this will reduce the number of buildings and the cost.
If it takes some time to develop your facility and it requires several years for completion you should include a standard inflation rate into your budget to avoid trouble when exceeding the actual budget planned in the design phase.
Health and Safety / Environment
Training should be as realistic as possible but Health and Safety as well as more and more environmental issues need to be implemented in the very early stage of the project development. Existing standards for the design of training facilities are covering the major aspects but most of the facilities are unique and need to be evaluated individually. One of the most impacting details is the type of burns expected to be part of the training scenarios. Whether you are going for clean burn gas fires with the use of only water as an extinguishing agent or you are planning to have Class A burns or using hydrocarbon fuels and using foam would have an impact on the sewage and draining system and last but not least environment and cost.
Training facilities and structures shall meet the existing design and construction requirements as well as specific and related standards.
Depending on the continent or country the training facility will be built, different standards may apply. Some countries are following NFPA standards some are following European or DIN standards.
Both organizations have standards in place that are written to give guidance for the architect or engineering team but also for the users. The teams that have developed those standards are mainly consisting of members or agencies, architects, engineers, industry representatives as well as health and safety organizations. Many aspects are taken into account when developing those standards and to keep them state of the art there is a review schedule in place to make sure latest experience and technology development is considered.
It is recommended to follow those standards to assure compliance with state-of-the-art-design and meeting existing requirements on technical standards.
Now that your shopping list is aligned with your budget preliminary design will start and your facility becomes more feasible. In this stage close communication between the architect and civil engineers and client is required to get a common understanding on needs and requirements.
Specifications and Procurement
Most procurement regulations do not allow for a direct order of systems due to the project and order value. This result into a public or limited tender procedure with a proper specification and the requirement for a comprehensible evaluation matrix. An important task for the subject matter expert is to specify your needs and to translate into a specification that allows for competitive proposals. Some systems do have individual specifics and unique operational features that others do not have. Are they comparable? This depends on the client needs, requirements and preferences. Evaluation of the proposals is essential and a clear evaluation matrix will help to identify the best solution.
At this stage the supplier for the technical systems are chosen, design is progressing and the coordination between the civil engineers, the infrastructure contractors and the system supplier need close support to translate the specific requirements of a training facility into civil design language. In most cases engineers and contractors have experience in building facilities that need to follow the standard design codes for example in fire protection requirements. Especially in buildings that are designed for the purpose of live fire training, standard fire protection systems and installations are counterproductive because those buildings are designed for “real fires”.
Also it is now important to review the design of the training system supplier and compare with the specifications and the agreed order details. Sometimes suppliers need some guidance to stay on track with their design to meet client’s expectations and the ordered items. This is again a difficult task to understand for a client who is not reviewing technical designs for training facilities every day. But a close review of the executional design will have benefits for both, the client and the supplier: it will help to avoid manufacturing and installing something that is not meeting the client’s expectations and is avoiding misunderstandings that will have a cost impact after being installed and then need to be modified or adjusted to meet what was expected.
Now construction is in progress and close supervision is required to assure system installation will be done as necessary and to avoid hidden mistakes that finally will have an impact on the functionality and lifetime of the system.
Completion and Acceptance
During the final commissioning the client’s operator should follow the installation status closely to get a deeper understanding of the systems itself and get insight on details that are hidden after completion. When installation is completed and internally checked and passed the internal supplier acceptance a third party acceptance done by a registered testing organization is recommended to assure compliance not only with the related NFPA/DIN Standard but also national standards for specific installations are met.
There are many mistakes that could be done but some of them have been already made before by someone else. Therefore there is no need to make the same mistake again. Take benefit of the experience of colleagues that have completed this challenge before and consult and involve subject matter experts at the beginning of your journey designing a state-of-the-art training facility. WinTecCon GmbH could help to make your project a success story
For more information, go to www.WinTecCon.com