Understanding the Thumbprint of your Community – Training by Design

Categories: Insight

Mezzanine Ropes Training, Plainfield Fire Territory Station No. 122
Ice Rescue Training, Orange Township
Confined Space Training, Des Moines Fire Logistics and Training Center
Ladder Training, Greendale Fire Headquarters
Rapelling, Kalispell Fire No. 62
Training Classroom, Plainfield Fire Territory Headquarters
Dean Sparaco

For years, a major issue for fire departments all over the nation has been limited access to training. Adequate training should support a department’s overall mission by significantly affecting fire department personnel preparedness and readying them for the mental and physical rigors of the profession. What can we do to help make firefighters safer and more effective in the communities they serve? How can we implement training features into station design to increase training opportunities? How can we help departments mitigate the costs incurred when personnel train off site? What available options can we explore for alternate and creative funding sources? In short, how can we help fire departments do more with less?

At conferences and seminars all over the country, we hear public safety design firms discuss the inclusion of training features to increase training opportunities. From ground ladder deployment, hose handling and rappelling to confined space and save your own drills, it’s become standard practice to provide these elements in fire station design. Everyone is doing it now, but is everyone doing it right? Our Training by Design approach uses the fundamental training requirements of the departments we work with as the foundation of our designs. This highlights the significant difference between imitation and innovation. The goal shouldn’t be to simply provide access to training. It’s providing the opportunity to engage in continuous, precise training!

Three core components are foundational to our design process: Community Thumbprint, Preparedness and Budget.

Community Thumbprint

A community’s unique public safety needs are what we call their thumbprint. An appreciation of the thumbprint is the first step in having a complete understanding of a department’s mission. The ability to discern what specific training opportunities support the department’s mission is the foundation of proper station design. Implementing training props into a design in a generic fashion just for the sake of having them leads to under-utilization of those props and a misuse of one of the most valuable commodities for a department: space.

We invariably emphasize technological advances and use materials that will enhance the station’s long-term performance and decrease maintenance requirements, but innovation doesn’t always mean finding the latest technology or utilizing materials in new or creative ways. Innovation comes into play when simply thinking about how a facility will help its department to fulfill their mission. Or when determining how the station’s design can accommodate training specific to what the men and women utilizing it are required to do on a daily basis. Innovative design should be flexible enough to provide the necessary training for today and take into consideration potential department growth. By first studying how a community will evolve, we can ensure a facility will meet the department’s needs now and in the future. Have you thought about what your crew will need to be prepared for in 15 years? Will your station be able to provide it?


The ultimate goal of any public safety design is for the facility to positively affect the proficiency of the crew. The old adage “proper planning prevents poor performance” has never been more true. Mental and physical preparedness is inherently supported by our Training by Design concept. Being able to provide training that is as realistic as possible is essential. In a real-world situation, crew preparedness will be improved because of this enhanced exposure to training right where they work and live. As first responders, cross training will be increasingly important as firefighters are continually challenged to be adept at large-scale disaster response, able to counter multiple threats and active shooter scenarios and able to provide EMS. With these challenges comes an increase in the stress firefighters have to endure. Departments must acknowledge that PTSD and depression are increasing and designing facilities that can help address exposure to mental and physical stress is an important part of the process. A well-trained crew member will be confident in their abilities and have reduced stress.

Employing the latest advancements in mixed reality technology can boost decision making processes and situational assessments and allow crew members to master individual skills, by extension, improving team dynamics. Training for collaboration between stations or with local hospitals can help streamline emergency response times. Keeping firefighters free from smoke and other health-related issues involved in training through the use of digital technology, LED and sensor simulation installations are the new norm. Drone technology can help a department coordinate in the field and assist in collaboration with other entities. As public safety design professionals, we must master these technological advances and ensure that an increase in training does not increase a firefighter’s exposure to health risks.


How can a department afford the implementation of these features into their fire station design? A study from the NFPA illustrates that the cost of basic hands-on training equipment (ropes, confined space, ladder, high line, etc.) is approximately $5,000 for every 10 members of a crew. If a department engages in off-site training three times per year, the annual training could be $15,000 or more for every 10 firefighters. Introducing unnecessary props leads to financial pitfalls and underutilization, placing even more emphasis on the need for careful consideration of training features that support a department’s mission. As budgetary issues are more and more prevalent, how can departments do more with less?

  • Consider collaborating with other departments, such as police or municipal to help defray costs. Joint facilities that provide training for multiple departments are becoming a viable solution to this challenge.
  • Explore alternative funding strategies, such as:
    • Public or private partnerships
    • Lease vs. own
    • FEMA
    • Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program
    • USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Program
    • Volunteer Fire Assistance Program
    • Community fundraising

With the installation of on-site training props through Training by Design, these routine, hands-on training exercises are at a firefighter’s fingertips, often for less than 5% of the overall construction budget. We’ve worked with departments who have seen their training features paid for after the first use. Typically, a $100,000 investment is paid for within five years.

A successful, informed facility design should support the training required by a department’s firefighters on a daily basis. It should eliminate common training challenges through a flexible, on-site training environment that fits the department’s mission, matches the specific needs of the crew and allows the department to think about next-level training. This can only lead to a more efficient department and safer community.

Interested in learning more about Training by Design?

Contact CR today!