Fresno Airport Splits Firefighters/Police Duties

Monday, July 4, 2005
Fresno airport splits duties
Firefighters, police officers to perform separate tasks.
By Donald E. Coleman
The Fresno (CA) Bee

Starting Oct. 1, firefighters and police at Fresno Yosemite International Airport will have separate duties for the first time in more than 20 years. “Police officers will function for security only, and firefighters will do fires only,” said Fresno police Lt. Tony Bennink, head of the city’s Department of Homeland Security and Airport Unit.

The 22 people working as public safety officers can apply for transfers with the city’s police or fire departments, seek to remain at the airport or move to another city department, depending on qualifications.

The transition comes after a city Public Safety Commission raised the issue last year of whether the airport’s public safety officers were utilized properly in a post-9/11 world. The airport officers who patrol the terminal and grounds also operate firetrucks on the runway.

Last August, the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined the city $36,000 for a series of violations, including failure to train airport public safety officers to fight fires in the terminal and other buildings. Director of Aviation Russ Widmar responded that the terminal was the responsibility of the Fresno Fire Department.

“There is specialized training as it relates to what we do,” Widmar said. “Our firefighters don’t do structural fires, and theirs don’t do aircraft fires.”

Fire Chief Randy Bruegman said the change allows employees to focus on one specialty.

“It integrates police and fire into the city’s public safety units,” Bruegman said. “During major emergencies training, response and communication are important.”

Bruegman said firefighters assigned to the airport will be treated as a specialty unit similar to the hazardous response and rescue teams.

“First, we’ll teach them to be firefighters,” Bruegman said.

Bennink said the transition will amount to “seamless coverage.”

He said the advantages to having a single police department is that the officers will have greater depth of experience from having worked the streets of Fresno.

The officers assigned to the airport will have additional duties as required by the Transportation Security Administration.

Included in Mayor Alan Autry’s $765 million budget approved Tuesday was the reorganization of public safety at the airport. Budget documents state that the consolidation will “provide a greater depth of resources, skills and knowledge and continue a regionalization approach to public safety.”

Bruegman said the cost will remain about the same as last year.

The Airports Department’s operating budget will increase about 26%, or about $2.8 million, this fiscal year. The bulk of the increase — $2.3 million — comes from costs associated with Mexicana Airlines’ operating at the airport.

The money would pay for inspection facilities and airport salaries, with the aim of reaching an agreement with Mexicana Airlines. Autry has said the first Mexicana flights between Guadalajara, Mexico, and Fresno could start in December.