Reno's New ARFF Facility Pays

Greg Gerber
Published in: 

Visitors can gamble on just about anything in Reno, NV. But airport officials don't leave safety and security to chance. An $11.9 million aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) facility completed last August at Tahoe-Reno International Airport (RNO) helps stack the odds in their favor.

As the nation's 60th busiest airport, RNO sees its share of minor incidents such as inbound aircraft with gear problems or faulty pressurization. Its new ARFF station, however, helps ensure emergency response crews are better prepared to deal with any situation - today and as the airport grows. It's already paying off in terms of improved staff efficiency and vehicle care.

The new 25,000-square-foot station is not only twice as large as the former facility, it's much more modern. Plenty of things had changed since the original building was erected in the 1970s. Technology had advanced significantly, as had the station's mission. Issues such as hazardous waste disposal, terrorism, medical decontamination and foam storage were central for project architects at PBS&J.

"We wound up with a state-of-the-art facility that makes a strong statement regarding our commitment to airport safety and security," says Brian Kulpin, airport director of public affairs.

Facts & Figures

Project: Aircraft Rescue & Firefighting Station

Location: Tahoe-Reno International Airport

Size: 25,000 sq. ft.

Total Cost: $11.9 million

Site Study: $1 million

General Contractor: Penta Building Group

Design Phase: Almost 10 months

Bidding Process: 3 months

Construction: 369 days

Design Team

Contract Prime: PBS&J

Architectural/Civil: PBS&J


Site Selection/Development: Armen DerHohannesian & Associates

Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing: Dinter Engineering

Structural: Apex Engineering

Landscape: Schoenberg Landscape Design

Construction Team

Prime Contractor: Penta Building Group

Masonry: Frazier Masonry

Steel Supplier: Frontier Steel

Earthwork: Gradex Construction

Fuel Systems: LA Perks Plumbing and Heating

Electrical: Paradigm Electric

Fencing: Tholl Fence

Mechanical: Mt. Rose Heating and Air Conditioning

Roofing: D&D Roofing and Sheet Metal

Concrete: Lucky Concrete

Drywall: Jackson Quality Drywall

Plumbing: NDI Plumbing

A Better Way

As new federal requirements were implemented throughout the years, makeshift solutions were developed so the old facility could comply with new codes and changing equipment. The decontamination room, for example, once consisted of a closet with a hose and a sink. The new facility boasts a much more modern area that includes a dedicated eye wash station.

Toward the end of its operation, the former facility barely met the airport's needs, Kulpin explains. Not only was it old, it was also disjointed from multiple expansion projects being pieced together. Rescue personnel had to navigate through many rooms and around several corners to get to their equipment, some of which was stored on the ramp outside.

In winter, the staff had a difficult time clearing windshields, cold-starting diesel engines, donning equipment and racing to the staging points or scenes within federally mandated requirements. Specifically, the first unit needs to arrive at the mid-point of the farthest runway within three minutes of the initial alarm.

Improving the flow of ARFF crews responding to emergency calls was first and foremost. "Whether they were in the gym, shower, cooking, sleeping or training, we wanted to simplify the route from wherever the firefighters may be when the alarm came in to where they needed to go to pick up their gear and climb aboard the trucks," explains Matthew Leiner, an aviation architect with PBS&J.

The new facility was designed to remove the clutter and allow direct access first to the apparatus bay, then to the runway to

improve responder times. Working with Dinter Engineering, PBS&J designed the complex around a center spine that feeds into various spaces (see illustration above). "We wanted to put an end to the right, left, right, right route that firefighters had followed in the past and ensure that they had as close to straight line access to the bays as possible," he adds.

The station was also constructed with future expansion in mind. Rather than having to rely on Band-Aid approaches, the new building can be stretched in nearly any direction and still maintain direct traffic lanes to equipment and the rest of the facility.

At 25,000 square feet, space is no longer an issue.

"Our new building offers enough room to store all our current equipment as well as material we'll likely acquire in the years ahead," says Dean Schultz, airport vice president of planning and engineering. "Just having all the equipment under one roof in a temperature-controlled setting helps us extend the useful life of the equipment."


The station also includes better training facilities and on-site maintenance bays. Best of all, it's all in the same building. The 18 full-time firefighters and support staff have access to fitness equipment and a training center that includes high-tech audio/visual capabilities. Even vehicle fueling now takes place on site rather than across the airport, which took an entire team out of the station.

Staying Secure

Security was the second main facility objective, with planners designing for visitors as well as staff. The result was a progression of security levels beginning with public entrances that graduate to semi-private office areas. Transportation Security Administration measures such as card-controlled entries and cameras limit access to the crews' living quarters and secure vehicle areas.

"The airport's security fence cuts the building in half," Leiner explains. "Based on the design, there is little chance someone could use the ARFF facility to circumvent the airport's security system."

The front entrance area is actually the smallest of the building's four segments, which get progressively bigger. The final apparatus bay can store trucks up to 18 feet tall.

PBS&J managed the construction project from an office in Reno where a full-time staff ensured the project was completed according to plan and in compliance with city permitting and FAA regulations.

"During construction, we were able to isolate the site from the rest of the airport so workers and trucks didn't have to go through security procedures every time they entered the area," Leiner notes. "We erected a temporary security fence to meet Transportation Security Administration requirements. Then, once the punch list was completed on the building, we attached the security fence to both sides."

Special attention was also paid to communications to and from the station. Designers made sure the facility had the best communication links possible between air traffic control, local police and the air operations center. The goal was to ensure that multiple forms of communications were available at all times, should anything knock out one of the systems. The airport's 800 MHz radio was set up so it could be linked directly with the county's emergency management offices and 911 dispatch center.

"We built in multiple redundant capabilities so that even if landlines went down, we could still communicate with local authorities and vice versa," says Kulpin. "We even went so far as to install fiberoptic lines to speed communication and allow us to transfer huge amounts of data quickly."

Site Selection

While construction itself went smoothly, determining the best location for the building was a bit more challenging.

Months before the first shovel of dirt was turned, the airport staff worked with PBS&J to complete a $1 million, eight-month site study to determine the ideal location for the new facility.

The staff used Excel spreadsheets to evaluate the pros and cons of 14 potential locations. The computer models examined everything from vehicle acceleration rates to the time it would take rescue staff to get out of bed. They also factored in distance and speed in different types of weather conditions. Once the computer models winnowed out the best sites, the staff verified the data through on-site testing.

"We scrutinized every possible site on the airfield to make sure we not only had the best one to fit our needs, but that the site would not interfere with future airport expansion plans or the operations of other support services," Kulpin recalls.

In addition, planners had to ensure that the new facility would be able to provide exceptional response to any emergency after future development had materialized. The staff also paid special attention to federally mandated safety and security requirements as well as environmental concerns such as the nesting habits of endangered species.

"The location of existing utilities factored into the decision-making process as well because the cost to extend services to some parts of the airport was considerably more than it would cost to wire other areas," adds Schultz.

After the nearly 10-month design phase and three months of bidding, general contractor Penta Building Group had 450 calendar days to complete the project. It actually turned over the keys in 369 days - nearly three months ahead of schedule.

The only real glitches during construction involved capping buried water pipes left behind from a residential neighborhood that was cleared to make room for the airport many years earlier.

"Although we were excited to bring the project in at budget and earlier than expected, our greatest joy comes in knowing that we've been able to increase the safety capacity on the airfield and in the terminal," notes Kulpin. "That's what we are all about."

Emergency Operations

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