Roanoke Regional Privatizes Fire & Rescue Services

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

For years, rescue and firefighting services for Roanoke Regional Airport (ROA) in western Virginia operated out of a public joint-use station located on airport grounds. The city's structural firefighters drove out of one set of doors for standard calls such as house fires; aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) crews used a separate set of doors and equipment for airfield incidents.

In July, however, the airport finalized its transition from public to private ARFF services. Crews from Pro-Tec Fire Services are now the sole occupants of the airport station.

The transition began in early 2009, when the city moved its structural firefighters into a newly built station, leaving the ARFF staff behind at the old facility. When both services shared a station, it was easy for the city to swap crewmembers between the two staffs to cover shifts. With services split between two stations, sharing crewmembers wasn't as convenient, which prompted the city to ask ROA if it was ready to take over ARFF services.

The question came as no surprise to ROA executive director Jacqueline Shuck and the Roanoke Airport Commission. According to Shuck, they always knew the airport would one day assume control of ARFF services. "It was an evolutionary process," she explains. "When the city decided to build a new station, the time seemed right to start planning the transition."

Maintaining Quality

The city's ARFF services were excellent, Shuck emphasizes, so the commission searched for a private provider with demonstrated competence and a proven track record to maintain the same level and quality of services. After issuing a request for proposal and interviewing the two responding companies, airport officials relied heavily on references from other airport directors. Confirmation from within the industry, notes Shuck, was "very important."

While quality was the primary selection criterion, Pro-Tec, the company ROA chose, was much less expensive than its competitor. It will also cost $88,000 less than the $769,000 paid for city services last year.

"We didn't go through this whole process just to save money," Shuck stresses.

Pro-Tec's $681,000 annual cost includes salaries, benefits, uniforms, physicals and training for one chief, three captains and six firefighters on three shifts.

Chief Concern

Facts & Figures

Privatization of ARFF Services

Roanoke (VA) Regional Airport

Service Provider:
Pro-Tec Fire Services, Ltd.

Airport assumes control over services & saves $88,000/year vs. city provider

Pro-Tec's first order of business was to hire a fire chief - a priority airport commissioners agreed with wholeheartedly. With an emergency mutual-aid plan still needing to be negotiated with the city and county, officials didn't want anything to jeopardize the excellent relationship the airport had with the local jurisdictions. To ensure the airport would have a fire chief who would build bridges between the new ARFF unit and the city and county, the commission retained contractual approval rights for current and future chiefs.

"Except for the chief, we didn't have any input into the hiring process," Shuck explains. "But for the chief position, we felt it was critical to have someone who was a consensus builder."

Peter Kandis, who served as ARFF captain for many of his 30+ years with the city fire department, was named fire chief in March.

"The transition went very well," Kandis reports. "I expected the city firefighters to be cooperative, but I was overwhelmed by how far they went to make us feel accepted."

Certification Training

With Kandis on board, other hiring began in earnest. A shift captain and two drivers/firefighters were put in place for three different shifts. Minimum requirements for new hires included firefighter II certification, EMT credentials and on-the-job experience.

The crew is based at the airport fire station, which the airport commission purchased for $771,663. It operates and maintains a new, recently purchased command vehicle and two airport-owned ARFF vehicles: a 2006 Emergency-One and an older Oshkosh unit, which Shuck notes is due for replacement. Both hold 1,500 gallons of water and approximately 500 pounds of dry chemical agent.

As an Index B airport, ROA is required to have only one ARFF vehicle, notes Pro-Tec's corporate fire chief, Jerry Rynerson. "We're very fortunate to have two 1,500-gallon vehicles here," Rynerson adds.

A New Station in the Works

In June, the Roanoke Airport Commission began searching for an architectural firm to design a new $6 million ARFF fire station for Roanoke Regional Airport (ROA).

Although the airport's current facility is functional, its location on the far side of the terminal outside the intersection of two runways is not ideal. ROA officials have always been concerned that taxiing aircraft could impede emergency vehicles en route to a call.

"We've identified a location for the new station that will give us a better response time and will remove the possibility of conflict with taxiing aircraft," explains ROA executive director Jacqueline Shuck.

With the help of AIP entitlement funds, the airport hopes to break ground in 2011.

In late May, the newly hired firefighters underwent processing and began ARFF training. In early June, they completed approximately 125 hours of training required by the FAA and state of Virginia. The last week included live fire training with an airplane simulator delivered to the airport by the Virginia Department of Fire Programs. The on-site simulator allowed trainees to use airport trucks and equipment to fight wheel, brake and engine fires as well as deal with a mass fuel spill fire on the ramp.

"The value is that they are able to use their own vehicles right here on the airport. There's no better way to train someone," Rynerson says enthusiastically. "Normally, when we send someone away for live training, they get about eight hours of training. Here they had nearly 40 hours of training on a simulator. There's a lot of ARFF certification programs out there, but Virginia has one of the best, if not the best, in the country."

Other Services

In addition to being on call for airfield emergencies, Pro-Tec performs regular inspections of ROA's fuel farm and mobile refueling unit, coordinates ongoing training of staff according to FAA regulations, performs fire extinguisher inspections and training, and manages the automatic external defibrillators on hand for cardiac incidents. Pro-Tec also provides backup assistance for the airport's daily self-inspection program.

"We do a lot more than just wait for an alarm or accident," Rynerson notes. "We create a team. We do what the airport expects us to do - and more. We want the airport to see our services as a value."

Thus far, Schuck is pleased with the value provided by the airport's private ARFF service: "They have been very easy to work with and very responsive. When they say they're going to do something, they get it done. Reliability - that's what you need."

Emergency Operations

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Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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