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Posted February 28, 2010 EST

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Roanoke's Airport Fire Station To Go Private In July
United States (Virginia) - The engines at Roanoke's Fire Station No. 10 don't leave the bay much these days only about 20 times a year. But 10 city firefighters still staff the sleepy outpost at the Roanoke Regional Airport, putting in around-the-clock shifts at a cost of about $700,000 a year, just in case they're needed for an airport emergency.

The city's equivalent of the old Maytag repairman is drawing to an end. Starting July 1, the airport will press a private firefighting crew into service and the 10 city veterans will be transferred among Roanoke's 13 other fire stations, which handle a total of up to 23,300 emergency calls annually.

The switch will save the airport about $100,000 in the first year, the difference between the cost of the private service and the $700,000 the airport commission reimbursed the city for station No. 10's expenses, said Jacqueline Shuck, executive director of the airport.

The city says half the airport firefighters will fill vacant fire department positions. The other half will fill jobs expected to be vacant by July.

"We felt this was a win-win for both the city and the airport," said Jim Grigsby, the assistant city manager who was chief of the city fire department from 1995 to 2005.

The switch is the last stage of a plan hatched in 2005, when the airport commission bought station No. 10 and its equipment for $771,663. The city used some of that money to build station No. 3 nearby, in the 4800 block of Williamson Road.

Fire officials built the new station to improve response times in north Roanoke, Grigsby said. The airport fire station was so far off the main roads that it was taking crews too long to show up at fires and wrecks.

The new station opened in January 2009, and responded to more than 3,500 calls last year. It houses the engine and ambulance that had been at the airport. Only fire engines specially equipped for aircraft emergencies remain at station No. 10.

Friday afternoon, two firefighters manned the quiet station.

"Obviously it's a thrill to ride with the sirens and lights," said Battalion Chief Roger Manuel, who's worked at the station for six years.

Even if his crew doesn't run calls every day, firefighters have to stay sharp -- just in case.

"With something like this, you might have one time in your life to get it right," Manuel said.

The privatization of the airport station shouldn't cost taxpayers money, Grigsby said, because the city will fill open fire department positions without having to hire and train new recruits.

There are five open positions in the department now. Grigsby and Fire Chief David Hoback said they are confident five more jobs will open by July 1.

The airport commission has contracted with Pro-Tec Fire Services, which will keep a staff of 10 at the airport station. The company, headquartered in Green Bay, Wis., also provides fire protection at Lynchburg Regional Airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires commercial airports to provide fire and rescue services.

The Roanoke and Roanoke County fire departments have agreed to come to the airport's aid if they're needed in an emergency, Shuck said.

The airport commission plans to build a new fire station inside the airport's security fence near Peters Creek Road, Shuck said. Work on the estimated $4.5 million facility should begin in 2011, Shuck said.

After that, the old station No. 10 will be used for storage, Shuck said.

Written by The Roanoke Times

Courtesy of YellowBrix - YellowBrix


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