The Fort Smith Regional Airport on Tuesday (April 16) unveiled its new $3.4 million fire station to the public. The new 3–bay, Air Rescue Firefighting Facility (ARFF), located at the airport will provide aircraft fire protection services for the commercial airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration awarded the Fort Smith Regional Airport a $3.1 million grant in 2017 as part of the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program to build a fire station because the airport did not have a fire station, said Airport Director Michael Griffin.
The new station was designed by MAHG Architecture firm of Fort Smith. Turnkey Construction of Fort Smith was the contractor.
“We have to do the competitive bid process, but it is so great when it goes to a local company. Having local people working on this means that $3.4 million goes into the local economy. That’s millions of federal dollars coming to Fort Smith,” Griffin said.
The airport took over aircraft rescue firefighting in 2014. Prior to that, the 188th Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard provided fire services. In 2014, the 188th changed its mission, requiring the airport to provide its own fire services, Griffin said.
The Air Guard unit changed from a manned flying mission to an unmanned mission focused on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Prior to the mission change, the FAA allowed the airport to lease the land for $1 a year to the 188th. In turn, the 188th provided services to the facility – like aircraft rescue and firefighting assistance – and also reimbursed it for maintenance and infrastructure upgrades. This arrangement resulted in a “cost avoidance” to the Fort Smith airport of $400,000 a year, which was significant especially in light of the facility’s small-by-comparison $2.6 million operating budget. When the 188th no longer had airplanes on the base, military officials pulled the plug on firefighting services, making a need for the airport to have its own fire station.
In 2017, the 188th resumed providing services, using equipment owned by the airport. The airport has three fire trucks, including a $500,000 new vehicle purchased with a 90% grant from the FAA, Griffin said. The new truck holds 1,500 gallons water, 500 gallons foam and 500 pounds dry chemical like what is found in a fire extinguisher, Griffin said.
“The FAA grants have been very helpful, and we seek funding sources for our share of these projects,” he said.
The new fully functional station is located midfield at the airport and will be manned by firefighters from the 188th 24 hours a day, seven days week, Griffin said. It began use Tuesday.
“We met every requirement for fire safety before this was built. Now we have that and then some,” Griffin said. “This is a great thing for the airport. We are adding to the safety of the traveling public.”
The airport sees about 90,000 commercial passengers a year with numerous general aviation and transient military flights as well, Griffin said.