Screen Barriers Protected Fla. Firehouses as Hurricane Charley Roared Through Orlando

January 31, 2005

During Hurricane Charley, Fire Station No. 66 in Orlando survived sustained winds of 55 mph and gusts of 97 mph without damage to the stationhouse or equipment. Emergency readiness was never compromised reportedly thanks to the installation of a flexible, wind abatement system that protected the large, bay doors from high wind, and windborne debris.

Some stations had no shielding screens. At Fire Station No. 76, winds from Hurricane Charley ripped away two bay doors, allowing wind and rain to enter the building. If the building envelope is breached, sudden pressurization of the interior can cause major structural damage (e.g., roof loss) and significant interior and content damage from wind-driven rain.

In 1992, many Miami-Dade fire stations lost roofs, equipment, files and furniture to hurricane Andrew’s fierce winds. Debris-laden winds penetrated aluminum-framed glass doors, and lifted roofs away. “Everything inside—equipment, computers, files and furniture was blown away,” said Lt. R. W. “Bob” Saunders. “Firehouses were rendered useless in a time of public crisis.”

Orange County reportedly did not want to face the same circumstance.

They needed an easy-to-assemble and operate, flexible barrier that could withstand hurricane force winds and windborne debris. According to Lt. Saunders, lessons learned from Hurricane Andrew influenced the decision to install polypropylene screen barriers on Orange County fire stations and Emergency Operations Center.

The screens and shutters were funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). Total cost of barrier screens for six 12′ X 14′ fire station bay doors was $13,260.

The barrier screens are polypropylene, woven monofilament-geotextile fabric, customized for an exact fit at each opening. They are engineered to reduce wind speed and water penetration by 90 percent, and prevent windborne debris from impacting the doors. “Other great advantages of the screen barriers are; they allow us to see outside, have fresh air and a cooling breeze,” said firefighter/paramedic, Dan Bracewell. Screens, at Fire Station No. 66, slope away two-feet from the base of the bay doors. This helps to channel wind and rain away from the building. The flexibility of the material absorbs the impact of windborne debris and keeps it from hitting the doors. Bolted top and bottom, to rustproof metal anchors, the screens flex, but stay secured. When not in use, the screens are rolled up and secured above the door.

Daryl McCarthy, Orange County Project Officer involved in the FEMA grant application five-years ago, said no failures of the hurricane-proof screens had been recorded. Of the County’s thirty-three fire stations, twelve now have protective screen barriers. “We are, today, in the process of preparing another mitigation grant application to safeguard the remaining twenty-one firehouses.”

City and County officials interested in funding sources for projects to make their structures safer, stronger and more storm-resistant, may obtain online information regarding the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program at More can be learned about Best Practices and Case Studies online at

In addition, a copy of Florida’s Handbook for Hazard Mitigation Projects can be downloaded from, by clicking “BRM Publications” under “Resources” in the sidebar.

“Our stations were built in the ’60s and ’70s when building codes did not require hurricane resistant structures. Once barrier screens are installed, we are assured of maintaining operational readiness during and following severe weather. Barrier screens are our most cost-effective way of achieving this goal,” McCarthy said.

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