By BRIAN McGILLIVARY
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The city’s fire department won a three-year contract extension to staff Cherry Capital Airport after an independent study found it the best and most cost-efficient solution.
City officials offered to extend the contract for three years with annual 5 percent increases. The airport currently pays the city about $368,000 annually to staff its airport fire station; if the airport turned elsewhere, three city firefighters would have been laid off, city officials said.
“This is a great set-up, not only for the airport but for the community as well,” said Zachary Puchacz , an aviation services consultant with Mead & Hunt, a group that conducted the study. “Other airports ... they’re envious.”
The study compared contracting with Traverse City’s fire crew to creating a stand-alone department for the airport or bidding it out to either a private contractor or other public fire department.
The study estimated it would cost more than $550,000 a year for Cherry Capital to create its own fire department and about $493,000 to contract with another entity while hiring someone to oversee the department.
A single firefighter mans the airport’s fire station, but all of the city’s firefighters are trained and certified for airports and rotate through airport duty.
Having everyone trained and familiar with the airport’s operations is beneficial when responding to a major airport incident, and unique for an airport of Traverse City’s size, Puchacz said.
“This community is receiving an excellent firefighter, highly trained and highly skilled,” Purchacz said. “Having staff members come in who are trained and know what to do ... that’s what saves lives.”
The city benefits from the arrangement because it provides additional firefighters, additional training, and access to the airport’s specialized fire equipment when needed, the report said.
Cherry Capital did not seek a bid from Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department, said Kevin Klein, airport director.
Klein said it would cost more than $40,000 to train Metro’s firefighters for airport certification. Traverse City firefighters are also trained as paramedics, which allows one person to fill the federal requirements for both firefighting and emergency medical response at the airport.