Fire Headlines Podcast Icon - Mental Health

Biophilic Design

June 28, 2023

15

A fire station in Marion, Iowa, has been designed using a sustainability consultant’s biophilic design principles to reduce post-traumatic stress disorder in firefighters. The article, shared by the Daily Dispatch, notes the 14 biophilic design principles and how they are reflected in the fire station building. Chiefs Bob Horton and Jeff Buchanan speak with Fire Headlines host Inanna Hencke about investing in these kinds of new strategies for mental health, as well as the role of a fire station in the community.

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Learn how investing in biophilic design may impact mental health in the latest episode of Fire Headlines by the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA).

A fire station in Marion, Iowa, has been designed using a sustainability consultant’s biophilic design principles to reduce post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in firefighters. The article, shared by the Daily Dispatch, notes the 14 principles and how they are reflected in the fire station building. Chiefs Bob Horton and Jeff Buchanan speak with Fire Headlines host Inanna Hencke about investing in these kinds of new strategies for mental health, as well as the role of a fire station in the community.

Biophilic Design Principles

Biophilic design incorporates nature into architectural design. There are 14 principles, which include:

  • Visual and non-visual connections with nature
  • Thermal and airflow control
  • Incorporation of water features
  • Use of lighting
  • Creating connection with natural systems (such as circadian sleep rhythms or the seasons)
  • Use of organic patterns and natural materials
  • A contrast of order and complexity, refuge and peril

The fire station utilizes these principles throughout the building, with large windows and ample natural light, organic patterns on carpeting, screened decks, and an outdoor patio. There are also practical purposes to design elements, such as a retention pond that, in addition to being a water feature, functions as stormwater management and may be used to practice water and ice rescue operations.

Investing in Public Safety

While Bob notes that he would have rolled his eyes at this sort of project when he was earlier in his career, Jeff points out, “It’s completely eye-catching and the architecture projects a level of, to me, professionalism […] Now, certainly the contrary point of view could be, you know, the cost and all these other things, but to me that says, ‘Okay. This is a community that soundly is placing a strong investment into public safety and I like that.’” Fire stations are public buildings that also serve as a home to firefighters during their shifts. Ensuring the building is a comfortable, inviting space projects professionalism and safety to the community.

Investing in Mental Health

In addition to building a beautiful, supportive space for fire service professionals and the community, the design principles are intended to support firefighter mental health. Bob notes that first responders “intervene after the fact, and what we are getting better at, through an ideology of risk reduction, is getting way upstream of these issues. Responding is too late.” The motivation for using biophilic design principals in the fire station was to help firefighters to calm down after coming back to the station from stressful operations. Jeff says, “I love it because it’s a new approach. We gotta keep coming at this from a different perspective. We have to keep trying to build resiliency in our firefighters.” Inanna agrees and says, “I don’t think people realize just how much our environment shapes us.” 

You can email Fire Headlines at [email protected].

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