Chico Airport Growth Means Upgrades for Fire Station

Monday, October 23, 2006
Chico’s airport fire station upgrading to meet new needs
By GREG WELTER
The Chico (CA) Enterprise-Record

With the city negotiating to bring direct flights from Chico to Los Angeles, the fire station responsible for airport emergencies is already gearing up to handle bigger planes and more passengers. Station 3, located on Boeing Avenue just off the south end of a runway, is getting a sizable expansion and a major facelift, due to be completed early next year. The station was built in the mid-’70s and designed for a staff of one, which is all it had for several years.

Now the station is home to crews of three firefighters, working around the clock in three shifts. In addition to serving the growing needs of the airport, Station 3 crews also respond to fires and other emergencies in commercial areas surrounding the airport.

The station currently looks pretty much like most of Chico’s fire houses, until you take a peek inside the vehicle bays.

Instead of the familiar red engines, Station 3 has a pair of bright yellow crash rescue vehicles. The older of the two is about the size of a regular fire engine, but designed specifically for fighting fires in and around airplanes and rescuing passengers.

The second one — delivered to the department just a few months ago — is a $1 million behemoth.

It barely fits inside the station, and it has to be taken outside for firefighters to fully access all its bells and whistles.

There are so many functions, engineer Ken Campbell said he still hasn’t discovered everything the vehicle can do. The electronics also have a few quirks, so Campbell said you sometimes don’t get what you expect when a certain button is pressed or a lever is pulled.

He said technicians will eventually work out any bugs in the system. Despite the glitches, Campbell said the rig is fully functional and ready for an emergency.

Among the vehicle’s primary functions is getting firefighters close enough to a burning aircraft to rescue passengers. If necessary, a remotely operated nozzle on the vehicle can puncture the skin of a plane and deliver water and foam to douse interior flames, or engine fires. The nozzle can also lay down a torrent of water and foam directly in front of the vehicle, and shoot a stream more than 200 feet out in any direction.

The vehicle is equipped with an infrared system that can literally see victims and flames through heavy smoke. If necessary, Campbell said it can travel safely at 70 mph., and, in most cases, put itself out if it catches on fire.

The vehicle took a year to build. About 95 percent of the cost was covered by a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Fire Chief Steve Brown said the city wants to be prepared for emergencies involving planes carrying 50 passengers or more, which would primarily involve flights to and from Southern California.

With Chico generally experiencing fewer weather delays than airports in the Bay Area, Brown believes the airport could become a favored departure alternative for Northern California residents flying south.

A major expansion of the station, estimated to cost about $1.4 million, is under way now and includes a new bay for the large crash-rescue vehicle.

The expansion will allow the emergency vehicles to park facing directly out on the runways, providing a complete view of the field as crews mount up to respond to an emergency.

In addition, new crew quarters are being built which will include four bedrooms, with separate bathroom facilities for male and female firefighters.

A new kitchen and day room facility are also under construction, along with a new communications-computer center that will also face out toward the runways. The expansion will increase the size of the station to 5,500 square-feet.

Again, about 95 percent of the remodeling cost is coming from the FAA. City redevelopment funds are covering the remaining five percent.

The expansion, which is being done by a local contractor, is expected to be finished in January or February.

As an “essential services building” Brown said the expansion of the fire station has to meet stricter building codes than normal construction.

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