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  1. #1
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default Private firm provides suppression at Lakeland Airport

    Airport to Get Private Fire Service
    Ferrer Aviation will provide protection at Lakeland facility.

    By Gabrielle Finley and Andrew Dunn
    & ANDREW DUNN

    LAKELAND -- A private aviation company plans to provide fire protection at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport within weeks and without help from the city.

    Ferrer Aviation, a flight school based at the airport, will begin fire service at the airport in early August, said company owner Danny Ferrer.

    The company bought a $200,000 fire truck that carries about 1,500 gallons of foam, used to treat airplane fires, along with a backup fire truck and a Hummer equipped with fire gear and extrication equipment, Ferrer said.

    He and his general manager, Bill Brenk, both trained to fight airplane fires at Texas A&M University.

    Ferrer's other two employees are training there now, and the company also paid for five Lakeland firefighters to complete the program so they can work part-time at the airport.

    Right now, the plan is to provide fire service for the entire airport on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eventually, Ferrer said he hopes to operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on weekends.

    Ferrer's plan doesn't include actually building a fire station. The fire trucks would be stationed at the airport during the day and stored in the company's hangar at night.

    But equipping, staffing and insuring even a part-time fire operation at the airport isn't cheap.

    Ferrer estimates that operating with his current staffing and equipment will cost $200,000 a year. In May, Ferrer pitched the city a proposal for fire services that carried a $500,000-a-year price tag -- a number he says was based on an estimate from another company that provides airport fire services.

    "We're pretty much eating (the expense), Ferrer said. "(The fire service business) doesn't make any money. There's no write off. But if we save one person, it's worth every penny."

    Ferrer said he plans to provide services to every company that works out of the airport, without cost.

    "You can't really charge a fee to rescue somebody," he said.

    However, Ferrer did ask the city of Lakeland, which runs the airport, to pony up for fire services.

    City officials passed on Ferrer's May proposal, saying the costs of operating an airport fire station outweighed the benefits.

    Lakeland firefighters respond to between three and five aviation-related incidents a year. That's out of 2,500 to 3,500 calls per year, according to city records.

    Since the 1960s, the airport has seen 125 crashes and 40 deaths, according to Brenk, Ferrer's general manager.

    In a letter sent to Ferrer Aviation last month, Assistant City Manager Tony Delgado questioned the potential liability associated with an airport fire station and said the $500,000 a year Ferrer was asking was "currently beyond the ability of the airport, financially."

    "If Ferrer presented a proposal that was workable, we'd view it. But it's more than just dollars. It's not the end all and say all," Delgado said.

    Instead of focusing solely on the airport, the city wants to provide fire services for the entire southeast Lakeland area, which includes the airport and is growing rapidly, Delgado said.

    The city is crunching numbers to figure out how much it would cost to serve both homes and the airport in the near future, Delgado said. New homeowners would pay impact fees that would help support a fire station.

    As it stands, the closest fire station to the airport is at South Florida Avenue and Beacon Road -- five and a half miles away.

    The city has a "conceptual plan" for a fire station in southwest Lakeland that could be built by 2008, said Lakeland Fire Chief Mike Mohler.

    But that won't be soon enough to comply with a Federal Aviation Administration mandate requiring the city to provide fire services at the airport by Oct. 1, 2006.

    Delgado said the city's fire department already is doing what the FAA has asked.

    Firefighters staff the airport 15 minutes before or after an aircraft carrying 30 or more people lands or takes off from the airport, as required by federal guidelines, Delgado said.

    That's not good enough for Ferrer.

    "How much is a human life worth?" he said. "When I hear people say they can't afford to provide emergency services, it sounds like you can't afford to save a life."

    Even though crashes at the airport happen infrequently, small incidents that may require firefighter support happen every day, he said.

    "We'll have pilots who have landing gear problems. There are incidents down there all the time, but they usually turn out to be minor."

    Another factor to consider when weighing the benefits of an airport fire station is that working at an airport requires specialized training.

    Firefighters must learn to work inside an airplane -- typically in confined spaces -- and know about airport systems.

    "You have to know where the oxygen is. That's an explosion waiting to happen," Ferrer said.

    "Airport firefighting is an art of its own."

    So is balancing the books. The question is: Given the high cost of fighting fires at airports, can Ferrer make the numbers work?

    Ferrer said he hasn't considered shopping firefighting services to other airports in the area. It probably wouldn't be very profitable, he said.

    Instead, Ferrer said he might set up a nonprofit to consult with airports about providing fire services.

    Ferrer Aviation executives seem ready to throw away the Harvard Business manual when it comes to firefighting at the airport. They insist that money is not the issue and that, while they would like to partner with the city, that they will go it alone, if they have to.

    "It's something that needs to be done," Brenk said.

    Andrew Dunn can be reached at andrew.dunn@theledger.com or 863-802-7588.

    Gabrielle Finley can be reached at gabrielle.finley@theledger.com or 863-802-7590.

    Diane Lacey Allen contributed to this report.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.


  2. #2
    Forum Member Spectre08's Avatar
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    He and his general manager, Bill Brenk, both trained to fight airplane fires at Texas A&M University.
    WHOOP!

    Gig 'em Ags!
    When I get to hell
    The devil he will say
    "How'd you put my fires out?
    In just one day?"
    I lift my hose up higher and higher
    that's how I do it, I'm a firefighter!

  3. #3
    FIGJAM lutan1's Avatar
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    For some time now, somewhere in the vicinity of 90+% of our defence force bases (Army, Navy and Air Force) have been protected by a private organisation. (Transfield) Don't know how effective it is in terms of $ saving, response capabilities, etc.
    Luke

  4. #4
    Forum Member Spectre08's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lutan1
    For some time now, somewhere in the vicinity of 90+% of our defence force bases (Army, Navy and Air Force) have been protected by a private organisation. (Transfield) Don't know how effective it is in terms of $ saving, response capabilities, etc.
    ?

    I don't know about that. As far as I know all Air Force bases have military fire departments
    When I get to hell
    The devil he will say
    "How'd you put my fires out?
    In just one day?"
    I lift my hose up higher and higher
    that's how I do it, I'm a firefighter!

  5. #5
    FIGJAM lutan1's Avatar
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    ?
    ?

    I don't know about that. As far as I know all Air Force bases have military fire departments
    I was talking about here in Australia (I normally say that in my posts when talking specific to this part of the world- sorry )


    Our civillian airports are protected by Airservices Australia, with support from the regular emergency services
    Luke

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