In a special meeting, the Fort Smith Regional Airport Commission on Tuesday (Aug. 12) approved entering into contract negotiations with Pro-Tec Fire Services to provide fire protection for the airport once the firefighting mission staffed by the 188th Wing ceases operations on Sept. 30.
According to John Parker, executive director of the airport, the airport chose to go with a contracted provider versus forming its own fire department due to communications problems with the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., regarding the use of the 188th's firehouse and equipment.
"We looked at the variables and studied if we could take on the tasks ourselves, but at the time we were relying on the agreements that the National Guard Bureau had made (to the airport verbally) but we had a window of time where we weren't getting any feedback from the Guard Bureau, so that's when we opted to go with someone who could provide all of the elements of aircraft firefighting, personnel, training, all of those things. That's why we requested the proposals. In doing so, we requested the proposals for a turnkey (operation) all the way down to personnel."
While Parker has previously stated that contracting services could eat up to $750,000 each year from the airport budget — a third of the airport's total revenue— he expects the a final contract with Pro-Tec using National Guard-owned equipment could bring the total expended on the firefighting operation down to possibly half that total or more.
"We anticipate through the contract negotiations, and depending upon the execution of the Guard agreement with the station and equipment, that we anticipate spending between $200,000 and $400,000," he said. "But we do not know exactly. We need to enter the contract negotiations to see what levels of service we need. We won't be far removed from that on either end."
He added, "Obviously, one is an extremely low-case scenario and another is a little bit higher, but that involves more support."
An agreement with the Guard will secure use of the equipment for the foreseeable future at little to not cost, but Parker said the Federal Aviation Administration will eventually require the airport to purchase its own equipment or Pro-Tec will need to acquire equipment.
"It (the equipment and firehouse) will be basically available to us until such time we can manage our own equipment, but no monetary considerations at this point. But that is still an open question in the future and it's an FAA requirement that we have to enter into those negotiations a little bit down the road here," he said, adding that a timeline is not yet available for when the airport will have to secure its own equipment.
With the company now selected and negotiations underway with both Pro-Tec and the National Guard Bureau, Parker said he anticipates having the private firefighting company on-site by Sept. 15 to begin to "transition" the airport's firefighting mission in anticipation of the Sept. 30 shutdown of the 188th's firefighting mission and the Oct. 1 takeover by the airport's contracted provider.
"It will be close, but in the RFP (requests for proposal), we asked for them to plan to be on site and ready for a transition period on the 15th of September. That gives us some leeway and flux because everything doesn't work as people anticipate. The transfer of equipment will probably occur in that window, as well. But Oct. 1 is when we're responsible for fire protective services. The 188th will perform services on that last day of September and the next day we're the ones in charge."
In other business, the airport commission approved acceptance of a $4.9 million grant that will pay for completion of a major taxiway realignment by the fall of 2015. The grant was announced Monday (Aug. 11) and is believed to be the largest-ever FAA grant.
Including the grant from the FAA, the airport commission will expend a total of $5.199 million to complete the realignment of the Taxiway A West.