Fireboat Station 35

Fireboat Station 35 Photo

When San Francisco Public Works sought to replace its undersized, 105-year-old fire station on Pier 22½, it looked out to the city’s majestic bay for inspiration. The result is a new maritime command center that’s bigger and more modern—and it floats. Completed in August, the US$39.9 million, two-story Fireboat Station 35 spans 14,900 square feet (1,384 square meters) and sits atop a massive waterfront steel float, anchored in place by four steel pipe guide piles. There’s also mooring for the city’s three fireboats, along with a driveway for ambulances and other emergency vehicles. 

It’s a stunning feat of architecture and engineering. And it’s a powerful solution to some of the long-term problems facing coastal urban areas like San Francisco: rising water levels and more volatile weather—which also threaten the stability of brick-and-mortar buildings. 

“The fireboat station has been designed for sustainability and resilience,” said Alan Kawasaki, principal at Shah Kawasaki Architects, which worked with Swinerton, Power Engineering Construction Co. and Liftech Consultants on the project. “It will rise and fall with the tides and climatic sea-level changes, always giving easy boat access to first responders.” 

The station was also built to experience limited impact in the event of a major earthquake, a key future-proofing feature given San Francisco’s geological history.

Working with the local fire department stakeholders, the design-build team established other must-haves for the new LEED gold station. That list included increased space for 24-hour staff and, for the first time, equitable and separate accommodations for female firefighters.

Building the first-of-its kind fire station was a four-year endeavor that required careful navigation of regulations: Construction on San Francisco’s highly protected bay required special permitting and involved a review by 17 agencies. And the team was also staring down a narrow timeline: To preserve the bay’s local wildlife, the project’s construction schedule was limited to 1 June through 30 November.

“The entitlement process, intertwined with the unique location, required exact planning, documentation and execution at every step of the project,” said David Mik, president of Power Engineering Construction.

To minimize disruption during the construction phase, the team had materials delivered to the nearby (but far less busy) Treasure Island. The fire station and the float were also fabricated off-site and then guided by tugboats to their final destination, completing the journey in the wee hours of the morning when winds and traffic were low. “It was an enormous effort for the entire team,” said Magdalena Ryor, project manager for City and County of San Francisco.

The city isn’t abandoning the original Fire Station 35, which is a designated landmark. It will be used to house equipment and a fire engine.

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