OFM - 04-87-13

Fire Station Location

Public Fire Safety Guidelines

Subject Coding

PFSG 04-87-13




September 2004


Fire Station Location


Under Review


To assist communities in determining the best locations for their fire stations.


Fire stations should be situated to achieve the most effective and safe emergency responses.

Fire stations represent a substantial municipal investment and should normally be located and designed to offer many years of service. As a community grows, it may become necessary to replace existing stations or add more stations to meet increasing public demands for emergency responses.

The best sites for fire stations will vary with local needs and circumstances and the fire protection services the municipality has selected to provide. Stations staffed by volunteer fire fighters may have some different considerations than those utilizing full time fire fighters.

Response Considerations

Distance and travel time are the primary influencing factors for selecting a fire station site.

Traditionally a circle was drawn around the proposed site to identify the station coverage area. Because the circle does not accommodate the normal right angle streets or roads, times will be more accurate if a diamond is used.

To plot the diamond, simply drive in each direction for the amount of time you have allowed for the response coverage, mark the point on a map and join the points using straight lines.

This procedure can then be repeated or modified for coverage that is beyond or less than the desired response times. This process will permit fire department managers to determine where response times are excessive, where impediments to the orderly movement of traffic exist and where specific high risks are located.

For example, the fire department reaches the downtown core in 3 minutes, the urban boundaries in 5 minutes, 75% of the rural area in 8 minutes and the remainder in 10 minutes. In the 8 to 10 minute areas specific additional fire prevention and public fire safety education programs may be warranted to help compensate for the longer response time.

The following diagram illustrates the differences between a circle and a diamond from a fire station that has used 4 minutes as the desired initial response time.

Please note that the circle will only reflect a true response of 4 minutes if the streets are straight from the fire station to the edge of the circle.

diagram illustrates the differences between a circle and a diamond from a fire station that has used 4 minutes as the desired initial response time

Computer Based Programs

There are several computer-based programs for identifying optimum locations for fire stations. While there are differences including data required, input and appearance, each of these programs identifies optimum fire station locations.

To determine optimum locations for fire stations using these programs, information such as the following must be entered:

  • relative fire risk values for various areas, occupancies or properties
  • desired response times for each identified fire risk
  • information regarding the road network in the community including reasonable travel speeds, one-way streets, rail crossings, etc.
  • emergency vehicles and personnel necessary to assemble fire attack teams

With the program tailored to the specific needs of a community, many fire response factors may be analyzed including:

  • existing and proposed station locations based on desired response times
  • best and alternate emergency response routes to specific locations
  • ability of pumper, aerial, rescue and support crews to cover all parts of the community based on desired response times
  • emergency response times for first, second and additional vehicles and personnel
  • areas for potential automatic aid responses

A benefit of using a computer program is the ability of fire or municipal staff and council to evaluate fire station location needs (based on objective criteria).

Other Considerations

Fire stations should be located where they can serve the majority of the protection area they are assigned rather than for a specific hazard. For example, it may seem wise to place the fire station across from a nursing home. However, if the majority of responses are to the residential or commercial areas at the other side of the coverage area, the station should be situated closer to that area but still have the ability to arrive at the nursing home in the desired time.

Many volunteer stations are located in or very close to the geographic centre of the populated area of the community. This may increase response time when the volunteers have to come through the traffic to get to the station and then respond back through traffic to the emergency. Response times could be reduced by locating stations closer to the edge of the urban centre. Fire fighter response procedures could be altered to have some of the volunteers respond to the station for equipment while others go directly to the scene.

The practicability of sharing a facility should be assessed. It may be appropriate to locate the fire station with other emergency agencies or other municipal departments.

Municipalities may wish to consider the “temporary” placement of a station in a leased or rented building to address rapid growth in a specific area. An example of this could be the placement of a station in a vacant commercial or industrial unit for a period of time. At the same time, records should be kept to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of response from this location, so that Council may make an informed decision when it comes time to decide whether the location should be made “permanent”.

Desirable Fire Station Site Criteria

The following is an initial check list for the selection of any fire station site:

  • It may be advisable to have stations located a short distance up a side street rather than on a main street where the heaviest traffic exists. Access to and from site must have:
  • reasonable access to a major street or road
  • appropriate sight lines (no hills, physical obstacles)
  • no traffic impediments at any time of day
  • ability to have a second access to the site
  • maintained access (snow clearance, etc.)
  • Assembly time for volunteers must not be negatively impacted.
  • Impact on adjacent properties needs to be considered.
  • Size of site must accommodate all expected activities of the fire service and allow for future expansion. (Parking, training, apparatus maintenance and equipment testing, etc.)
  • Proximity to municipal services and required utilities (water, sewer hydro, telephone, gas)
  • Costs.
  • acquisition of land
  • site preparation
  • building (leasing/renting may also be a consideration)

Codes, Standards, Best Practices:

Codes, Standards, and Best Practices resources available to assist in establishing local policy on this assessment are listed below. All are available at www.ontario.ca/firemarshal. Please feel free to copy and distribute this document. We ask that the document not be altered in any way, that the Office of the Fire Marshal be credited and that the documents be used for non-commercial purposes only.

See also PFSG:

04-01-12 Selecting Fire Suppression Capability
Service Providers
Codes, Standards, Acts, Regulations, Best Practices

See also Creating and Evaluating Standards of Response Coverage for Fire Departments CFAI www.cfainet.org