When twenty-five inches of snow in early February 2010 caused a total roof collapse at the Bailey’s Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department in Falls Church, Va., multiple pieces of firefighting apparatus suffered millions of dollars in damage. Located near Washington, D.C., and responding to nearly 10,000 calls a year, the station couldn’t afford to be out of commission. Officials knew they had to act quickly.
The immediate solution, at least until a permanent structure could be rebuilt, was a temporary fabric building.
“We’re very busy — we can’t afford to be out of service,” said Dennis Corl, a project manager with the department. “The only other option would have been to distribute equipment to other stations. The key was to protect apparatus. We also wanted to keep the crew together.”
After researching their options, department leaders learned about ClearSpan Fabric Structures. They decided to go with a 50-by-40 ClearSpan Hercules Truss Arch Building. It took ClearSpan only a week to complete the project.
“We were looking for tension-fabric structure to house apparatus,” said Corl. “ClearSpan came through and jumped right on it. They did a marvelous job.”
One immediate advantage of the new temporary structure was increased floor space, since all supports were located on the perimeter. It also featured two exterior personnel doors and a ventilation fan. The department utilized this structure until 2013 when the decision was made to build a new station to replace the damaged one. They moved several blocks away into a new temporary fabric structure constructed by Rubb Building Systems. In October 2014, the department moved into its new permanent home.
Thanks to two temporary buildings made with tensile fabric, the Bailey’s Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department didn’t miss a beat during the four-and-a-half-year span between the roof collapse and the completion of its new station.
“This year, we’re the top-running station in Fairfax County,” Corl said, proudly.
The ability to quickly adapt and customize is one of the key reasons ClearSpan was able to step in so quickly to help the fire department, according to Geoffrey Ching, a sales manager with the company.
“With natural disasters, time is of essence — our customers can’t afford to wait,” Ching said. “We’re used to working with very tight deadlines.”
Municipal projects make up a sizable chunk of business for ClearSpan — numerous buildings it erects are used for salt storage, said Ching.
“We focus on temporary and permanent construction solutions, with in-house manufacturing, design and engineering,” he said. “We build with both fabric and steel, although fabric is quicker. Because of our ability to predesign, we offer a very fast response time.”
While some may assume that fabric buildings aren’t made for the long haul, actually they are. Bailey’s Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department depended on fabric structures for four years, and in fact, they’re designed to last much longer. ClearSpan fabric comes with a 20-year warranty. Fabric has other advantages as well.
“People generally like white fabric because no lights are needed during the day,” Ching said. “It’s energy-saving and sustainable, relocatable, and able to withstand different types of climates.”
Temporary structures offer a variety of applications for municipal use, particularly in response to disasters — from providing shelter to those who have been displaced from their homes to serving as temporary medical/first-aid centers and more. Schools across the nation have been turning to temporary structures, such as modular homes, to serve as offices or classroom spaces to match rapid growth. Many cities have embraced temporary structures to protect equipment — much like Bailey’s Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department did — or commodities.
Calhoun, a manufacturer of fabric structures based in Tara, Ontario, Canada, has not done much in the way of direct disaster relief, but it is positioned to do so throughout the United States and Canada, said Dan Dalzell, a dealer development manager with the company.
“We offer quick turnaround and can get structures up-and-running very quickly,” Dalzell said.
Much of Calhoun’s business is building structures devoted to sand and salt storage, which helps prevent disasters by keeping roadways free of ice. Dalzell also pointed to the positive environmental impact of such buildings. “We don’t want salt runoff in the elements,” he said. “Ultimately, these structures save taxpayers money.”
As more and more businesses and organizations turn to temporary fabric structures for a wide array of reasons, it’s also important to keep these buildings safe, especially in storms. Mahaffey, another developer of temporary buildings, urges its customers to install lightning protection in its temporary structures. Long-term structures, such as the one used by Bailey’s Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department, contain a variety of electrical equipment. Because most fabric buildings rely on metal frames, they are easy targets for lightning, which can fry internal communications infrastructure.
And since lightning can cause fire, the ClearSpan structure used by the Bailey’s Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department had to comply with county building codes — specifically, the fabric needed to be non-flammable.
“Fire marshals had to approve it,” Corl said.