The transition from fire protection provided by what is now known as the 188th Wing to an airport-run fire department has hit some speed bumps, the Fort Smith Airport Commission were told during its monthly meeting Tuesday (July 22).
According to Fort Smith Regional Airport Executive Director John Parker, "lack of movement" on the part of the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., has called into question whether the initial agreement announced by Parker to allow the airport to use vehicles and equipment already on-site at the 188th Wing's fire station once the National Guard ends its firefighting mission at the airport. The National Guard unit has transitioned from a manned flying mission to an unmanned flying mission, therefore eliminating the necessity of its own fire protection which also provided protection for the airport as a whole.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires airports to have varying levels of on-hand firefighting personnel and capabilities. According to Parker, Fort Smith will meet FAA standards by employing four full-time employees with an estimated two additional part-time employees and possible on-call, as needed staff to cover shifts.
On Tuesday, Parker provided to The City Wire an e-mail from Program Manager Kathy Franklin of the Federal Aviation Administration in Fort Worth, Texas. Franklin's e-mail recalled the a meeting between Parker and the National Guard Bureau at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in which Air Force Col. Peter Sartori made commitments to Parker regarding use of equipment and vehicles.
"During the meeting, Col. Sartori announced that the ANG Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) equipment and facility can be jointly used by the airport past the end of the fiscal year, until Ft. Smith Regional can secure their own ARFF equipment and facility. Therefore, two new joint use agreements between the airport and the ANG need to be written," Franklin wrote.
In a memo to the Airport Commission distributed at Tuesday's meeting, Parker said the Fort Smith Regional Airport has complied with requirements from the FAA that it place a new air response firefighting truck (ARFF) in its Fiscal Year 2017 plan and a letter to the National Guard Bureau seeking to renegotiate the land lease where the current National Guard fire station sits on airport land.
He noted that the FAA and the National Guard Bureau met in Washington following the April 4 meeting at Dallas/Fort Worth, ultimately resulting in a directive from the FAA that the Fort Smith Regional Airport move up the purchase of an ARFF truck to FY 2015, which Parker said has been done.
"We are now 10 weeks away from taking the responsibility for ARFF on ourselves without the NGB (National Guard Bureau) / US Air Force being full engaged on their verbal contract," Parker wrote. "I have asked the Chairman for permission to advertise for a complete ARFF service contract through a request for proposal and Chairman McGhee approved this action. Without the equipment offered by the NGB, we will have to contract for use which will be far more costly than the original plan."
Parker told commissioners during Tuesday's meeting that some movement had taken place with the National Guard Bureau and the U.S. Air Force regarding the ARFF situation, but he said the request for an ARFF service contract was still needed as a backup should the military not have a deal in place or back out before ARFF services end by the National Guard on Oct. 1.
Once the airport receives requests for proposals on the ARFF service, Parker said he would have a definite answer regarding costs though he noted that planning figures now allocate $750,000 for ARFF protection "which would be one third of our current revenues annually."
Parker told commissioners that the airport had already advertised for and received applications for its own fire department and he hoped to be able to fulfill the commission's original intent to hire its own department versus contracting services to an outside vendor.
"NGB officials made contact with the airport this week and I have answered a number of questions on the phone and through email from officers who did not have previous connection to our agreement from April, but I am willing to talk to anyone who might have the ability to honor the promises made to us," he wrote. "We are in the unenviable position of having to track every option available to us with equal effort, as the NGB has waited so long to finally answer our requests for information. We will continue to prepare for every option and seek to present the most cost effective method of ARFF services meeting the requirements of FAA."