Airport facility takes off

Posted: Monday, January 27, 2003

After experiencing a little turbulence with its communications systems, the Kenai Airport Operations Facility is finally up and running at full capacity.

The $4.9-million facility had a ceremonial opening in August and was expected to be fully operational in September.

Airport personnel have been putting their portion of the 20,000-square-foot building to good use since that time. The building includes office and conference room space, warm storage for sand and snow removal equipment and a special bay for washing airport equipment.

The other portion of the building was designed to house two airport rescue and fire-fighting vehicles and a firefighter who was supposed to be stationed there at all times beginning in September.

That move-in date was extended, however, because the communications, radio and alarm systems in the building were not operational at that time.

The service provider that was supposed to install those systems went bankrupt while the building was under construction and a new service provider had to be brought in, delaying the completion date.

Work on those systems and a related upgrade to the city's emergency response communications system has since been completed and the Kenai Fire Department was able to staff the facility a little before Christmas, said Kenai Fire Chief Scott Walden.

"It's great," Walden said of the new facility. "It's been working out very well for us."

The fire department has four firefighters on-duty at all time. Since the new facility has been operational, one of those firefighters has been stationed at the airport.

The benefit of this is that it makes the fire department's response time to the airport virtually instantaneous.

The Federal Aviation Admin-istration requires an airport to be able to get a fire truck and water to the center of the runway within three minutes of an alarm.

In the past, this meant the fire department would have to deploy a truck from the fire station on Willow Street, get it across the sometimes busy intersection, through the airport gates and onto the runway. Now when an alarm rings, the firefighter stationed at the new facility just has to get into the truck, open the garage door and drive straight out onto the tarmac.

"Rather than just barely making it in the three-minute mark, we're already on the runway," Walden said.

Initially, there was a concern that having to assign one firefighter to the airport facility at all times might hamper the department's ability to respond to emergencies in the rest of the city, Walden said. But this has not been the case.

For fires or significant emergencies, the department is required to respond with four firefighters. This means the person stationed at the airport facility has to get back to the fire station, leaving the airport facility unmanned until dispatchers recall the off-duty crew.

The upgrade to the communications systems allows off-duty firefighters to hear when there's going to be a recall before they're actually called, so they can come in and cover the unmanned stations faster than they could before the upgrade.

As a result, the fire department's response time to emergencies in the city has improved, even with the new station at the airport to cover.

There are a few moving in-type adjustments that still need to be made at the new facility. The opening around the fire pole, for instance, is too wide for the firefighters to get to the pole. And the facility could use some cleaning supplies, Walden said.

"We're still adjusting to what we need over there," he said.

Other than that, Walden said the facility is working out well for the fire department and is a great benefit to the airport.

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