Des Moines firefighters lead in innovative fire station design for cancer prevention and behavioral health

January 4, 2024

In a move to combat the rising incidence of cancer among firefighters, the Des Moines Fire Department has pioneered a new approach to fire station design, with Station 11 setting a precedent in prioritizing health and safety.

Innovative design focusing on health and safety

Station 11, which began operations in 2021, represents a significant investment in firefighter well-being, costing $8 million, funded through General Obligation Bonds.

According to Fire Marshal Jonathan Lund, the design process involved a clear focus on reducing carcinogen exposure and enhancing overall firefighter wellness​​.

Enhanced features for cancer prevention and well-being

The station is notable for its comprehensive approach to health, incorporating individual sleeping pods, customizable alert systems in sleeping quarters, direct access to washing facilities, and heavy-duty equipment for cleaning firefighting gear.

These features not only address cancer risks but also aim to improve sleep patterns and overall health for firefighters​​.

Advanced systems for decontamination

A notable aspect of Station 11 is its sophisticated system that ensures thorough decontamination of equipment and personnel.

As explained by Joe Van Haalen, President of Local 4, the system effectively removes contaminants, preventing them from entering the living quarters, thereby significantly reducing the risk of carcinogen exposure​​.

Statistics and significance

Recent data highlights the urgency of such measures, with at least ten Des Moines firefighters diagnosed with cancer since 2018.

Second District Vice President Mark Woolbright emphasized the role of such initiatives in preventing carcinogen exposure and saving lives​​.

A gradual approach to station upgrades

The project is part of a larger, incremental strategy to upgrade fire stations across Des Moines, with a focus on practical and effective solutions.

While replacing all stations immediately is not feasible, gradual additions and improvements are being implemented.

The upcoming Fire Station 4, expected to be completed in 2025, will also feature similar advancements​​​​.

FSJA Comment

The Des Moines Fire Department’s initiative in reimagining fire station design is a commendable step towards addressing the long-overlooked issue of cancer risk among firefighters.

By integrating state-of-the-art design elements and focusing on practical, health-centered features, Station 11 serves as a model for future fire station constructions.

It represents a balanced approach, where the aim is not just to introduce cutting-edge technology but to ensure these additions are functional and genuinely contribute to the well-being of firefighters.

The emphasis on cancer prevention, alongside measures to improve overall health, demonstrates a holistic understanding of the challenges faced by firefighters in the line of duty.

The project is a testament to the department’s commitment to its personnel’s health, setting a new standard in fire station design.

This forward-thinking approach could potentially inspire other fire departments to adopt similar practices, thereby fostering a healthier and safer environment for firefighters across the nation.

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