Fire Station Fit for a New Age

By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 8, 2008

If you spent your childhood dreaming of being a firefighter, you probably never imagined that you'd be working in a place like this.

Plants grow atop the roof, and recycled and energy-saving materials are used throughout. The building's color is more leafy green than fire-engine red. Even the brass fire pole, a spring-loaded, OSHA-approved number, is "not your grandfather's fire pole," said John White, assistant fire chief of the Arlington County Fire Department.

Fire Station No. 5 opened several weeks ago in the Pentagon City area, four years after construction began. It has that fresh-out-of-the-box feeling; the golden fire pole still shines, and there are pictures still being hung on the walls and unfinished rooms. It replaces a station by the same name, which stands across the parking lot and continues to house a library and community center.

"If somebody were to come for a visit, they'd say this is a 21st-century, modern fire station," White said.

He might be understating. The 17,000-square-foot building that houses the county's busiest fire station is seeking a silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating, a nationally recognized standard for "green" buildings. The plants in place on the roof over the "apparatus bay," or garage, will cool the bay in summer.

"Just the little things like that make it really different," White said.

Station No. 5, which also serves Crystal City, Potomac Yard, Arlington Ridge, Aurora Highlands and the Pentagon, took 6,876 calls last year.

The new station's kitchen sparkles with oversize, stainless-steel refrigerators -- one for each of the three shifts, which last 24 hours apiece -- and a large dining table for each shift to eat together. The exercise room is still being built.

The station also has a decontamination room, accessible through a large stainless-steel door near the garage, where first responders and victims can be decontaminated after exposure to hazardous materials. Under a trio of showerheads, the runoff drains into a tank that can be isolated if contaminants are found.

"Being able to provide good facilities not only helps us and helps the community, but it helps prospective firefighters," White said. "Especially female fighters' perspectives -- that Arlington is a good place to work."

That's another thing that separates this station from many others. In a move aimed at the increasing number of women in the profession, firefighters at Station No. 5 have individual accommodations, featuring a private bedroom, bathroom and closet with a locker. There are no sex-specific sections. Each of the 12 dorm rooms also has a desk, telephone and Internet access.

In addition to those rooms, there are three officers' rooms that are larger and contain two beds.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company