Travel & Tourism
News Releases - Travel & Tourism
Written by Brian Jennings   
Monday, 03 February 2014 13:17

DES MOINES – Today, AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan issued the following statement regarding the Des Moines Airport Authority’s decision to schedule a Board vote for tomorrow on the pending contract with Pro-Tec Fire Services:

“The Des Moines Airport Authority Board is showing a callous disregard for the safety of airport passengers by plowing ahead with this risky, unsafe outsourcing plan. As we detailed in our previous news release, Pro-Tec Fire Services has a troubled history and the Airport Authority’s Request for Proposal included staffing requirements that are insufficient to meet OSHA requirements and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) staffing and interior firefighting safety standards. The staffing level is so minimal that in a crash, Pro-Tec employees will only be able to focus on putting the fire out—not assisting injured passengers.

“At a January 29th meeting with Airport Authority managers some current Airport Firefighters/Medics made a sensible proposal to have the Airport Authority hire the current firefighters/medics as Airport Authority employees. The Airport’s Assistant Executive Director and General Manager, Kevin Foley, stated that the airport is ‘a business and is making a business decision.’ He further claimed that the airport does not have to follow OSHA and NFPA standards.

“The Airport Authority is not a business. It is a public entity with board members nominated by the Mayor of Des Moines and appointed by the Des Moines City Council. Its priority should be safety, period.”

“We ask all members of the public who support a safe airport to show their opposition to this dangerous proposed contract with Pro-Tec. We encourage them to attend the Authority Board meeting on Tuesday at 9 am in the second floor boardroom at the airport terminal.”


Should Travelers Confronted by Young Beggars Give Them Money? PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Travel & Tourism
Written by Richard Martin   
Thursday, 30 January 2014 15:01
Child Advocate from Pakistan says, ‘No!’

Anyone who’s taken a Caribbean cruise or visited one of the world’s less affluent countries has been approached – sometimes even mobbed – by children begging for money. Many are dirty and obviously hungry. Some are disabled and/or disfigured.

It’s hard to resist dropping a few coins into their small hands, but Pakistan native and child advocate Zulfiqar Rashid says we must.

“Crime rings around the world traffic in children for use as beggars, and they will starve or maim the children to elicit more sympathy – and money,” says Rashid, who writes about a particularly cruel form of this in “The Rat-boys of Karalabad,” ( The title refers to children in Indo Asian countries whose heads are tightly bound when they’re very young resulting in stunted brains and terrible disfigurement. The children are then put to work as beggars.

“When you give money to child beggars, it may well help fund the perpetuation of this industry – more kidnappings, more children starved and maimed,” says Rashid. “Even if the children are not working for mafia types, giving them money or gifts gives them incentive to stay on the streets instead of going to school, which is the only way out of poverty.”

Instead, consider helping those children with a gift that can truly save their lives through one of these charities. Each has a four-star rating – the highest possible – from Charity Navigator, a non-profit that provides objective evaluations of charities:

• Save the Children helps children and their families help themselves by fighting poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease in the United States and around the world on a daily basis. It also responds to disasters, providing food, medical care and education, and staying in ravaged communities to help rebuild. This charity spent more than 91 percent of its revenues on its programs and services in 2011. (Charity Navigator finds most charities spend 65 to 75 percent on the programs they exist to provide.)

• Kids Around the World provides safe play equipment for children in areas where, because of war, natural disasters and poverty, it’s hard to be a kid. The faith-based charity also trains and equips churches and Sunday school teachers around the world to visually share the Bible with the children in their communities. More than 90 percent of its budget went to its programs and services in 2011.

• Invisible Children, Inc. rescues and rehabilitates children who have been kidnapped and used as soldiers or sex slaves for the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, in Central Africa. By Invisible Children’s count, more than 30,000 children have been abducted. Many are forced to commit brutal atrocities, including killing their parents with machetes. Invisible Children says it “exists to bring a permanent end to LRA atrocities.” In the 2011-12 fiscal year, it spent more than 81 percent of its budget on programs and services.

• Feed My Starving Children provides MannaPack meal formulas, developed by food scientists to reverse and prevent malnutrition, to missions and humanitarian organizations in more than 55 countries. The food is then distributed to orphanages, schools, clinics and feeding programs. In 2012-13, the faith-based charity delivered 163 million meals with the help of more than 657,000 volunteers. Countries served include Haiti, Nicaragua, the Philippines and North Korea. More than 87 percent of revenues go toward programs and services.

About Zulfiqar Rashid

Zulfiqar Rashid was born in Pakistan and now resides in southern California. As a regular contributor to various newspapers, Rashid has written extensively, recounting his travels to Pakistan, and about major figures in the Pakistani artistic and cultural scene.  Rashid is also an accomplished artist and calligrapher, whose art has been featured in the San Diego Union Tribune.  His works have been exhibited at galleries in San Diego, Del Mar, and La Jolla, as well as the San Diego Art Institute and the San Diego Port Authority’s “I Madonnari” festival.

St. Louis To Mark Its 250th Anniversary With 'Biggest Birthday Bash' PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Travel & Tourism
Written by Dana Andrews   
Friday, 24 January 2014 10:49

ST. LOUIS -- January 23, 2014 -- A 250th birthday doesn’t come around every day but when it does, you want it to be a humdinger! And, in true St. Louis-style hospitality tradition, many of the major, blow-out-the-candles birthday events will be free to all.

Here are the key events planned thus far (be sure to check out St. Louis' birthday website often as
St. Louis area attractions continue to add special 250-themed activities to the calendar):

February 14-16: Birthday Bash Weekend. Was STL founded on Valentine’s Day or on the day after? Historians can’t agree so the city is making a weekend of it. National musical acts, a 25-foot-high flaming heart sculpture titled “Burnin’ Love,” luminary décor, light shows illuminating the park and spectacular fireworks displays will highlight this blow-out event in Forest Park.   

Re-enactors will bring St. Louis' founding to life along the Mississippi riverfront on Saturday, Feb. 15. They will also trace the broader influence that various cultures played in shaping St. Louis--the Osage, the Spanish and the French, including those from New Orleans and Quebec.

To commemorate St. Louis’ French ties, French heritage awareness group Les Amis will place street signs with the original French names on streets in downtown St. Louis.

February 14: Missouri History Museum Exhibit. A major, free exhibition commemorating the city's 250th anniversary will open at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. Titled “250/250: 50 People; 50 Moments; 50 Places; 50 Images; 50 Objects,” the exhibit will showcase the richness, diversity and complexity of the city’s long history while telling stories of murderers and musicians, prostitutes and poets, composers and clowns.

Displays will feature objects older than 250 years as well as some we still use today. Visitors can listen to first-hand accounts of both the big and small moments that have made St. Louis history and see images of St. Louisans at work and play throughout 250 years.

During opening weekend visitors can participate in interactive exhibits and activities, enjoy live musical performances and sample prime edibles from local food vendors.

July 4-6:  Fair Saint Louis. Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase officially transformed St. Louis from French to American, so it’s fitting to turn the Fourth of July 2014 into a birthday party for St. Louis and the entire nation. Fair Saint Louis, St. Louis’ long-time Fourth of July celebration, moves to Forest Park this year for an entirely new celebration experience. Nationally known music acts, a huge parade with birthday-themed floats, air shows and nightly fireworks ensure this joint celebration of St. Louis’ and our country’s births will be an event to remember.

December 31: Kickoff of St. Louis' future. The birthday year culminates with fireworks, music and more during a fun-filled First Night that kicks off the start of St. Louis’ next 250 years.

For more information about St. Louis’ Biggest Birthday Bash, visit stl250.


News Releases - Travel & Tourism
Written by Glenn Kass   
Friday, 24 January 2014 10:33

Historic Davenport hotel is only property named in Iowa

DAVENPORT, IOWA – Hotel Blackhawk management is pleased to announce its recognition as a 2014 Recommended Property by the Forbes Travel Guide – one of 82 hotels worldwide to earn that title and the only one in Iowa. The announcement is part of the guide’s 56th annual Star Awards for hospitality establishments worldwide (

The Forbes guide (originally known as the Mobil Travel Guide) was the originator of the prestigious Five Star Ratings and certifications. It has provided the travel industry’s most comprehensive ratings and reviews of hotels, restaurants and spas since 1958.

This back-to-back honor for Hotel Blackhawk adds to its current status as an AAA Four Diamond Award-Lodgings, two-time TripAdvisor® Certificate of Excellence Award recipient, two-time Bix Bistro Wine Spectator Award of Excellence status as well as three-time Smart Meetings Platinum Choice Award recognition.

“Retaining our status in a travel guide like Forbes is recognition earned by the team at Hotel Blackhawk,” said Tim Heim, Senior VP – Sales & Marketing, Innkeeper Hospitality Services – parent company of Hotel Blackhawk. “Continuing to meet the expectations of a prestigious rating organization is to again be part of a gold standard for hospitality excellence today.”

Hotel Blackhawk re-opened December 15th, 2010. The hotel retains its 99-year-old historic character while featuring modern conveniences throughout the 130 guestrooms and extended-stay suites, six meeting rooms and up to 300-person banquet capacity in the signature Gold Room.

Other features include wireless internet, a fitness center, business center, swimming pool, hot tub, Spa Luce (lu-CHAY), Milan Flower Shop, the Bix Bistro restaurant, the Beignet (been-YAY) Done That coffee shop and Blackhawk Bowl & Martini Lounge. The hotel is part of the Autograph Collection ( and the Historic Hotels of America network (

For more, visit or find us on Hotel Blackhawk).


News Releases - Travel & Tourism
Written by Brian Jennings   
Tuesday, 14 January 2014 15:55

DES MOINES – Today, the Des Moines Airport Authority Board delayed making a decision on a contract with Pro-Tec Fire Services for firefighting services at Des Moines International Airport.


Currently, the Iowa Air National Guard provides firefighting and EMS services at Des Moines International Airport through highly trained state employees who are part of the Iowa Department of Public Defense. On September 30, 2014, these services will end due to a change in the mission tasking of the Air National Guard airbase at the airport. As a result, the Des Moines Airport Authority Board must find another way to provide firefighting services at the airport.


“The Airport Authority Board is considering hiring a for-profit company that will provide only minimal emergency services. The Airport Authority’s Request for Proposal included staffing requirements that are insufficient to meet OSHA requirements and National Fire Protection Association staffing and interior firefighting safety standards,” said AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan.


“The company that the Airport Authority Board is considering, Pro-Tec Fire Services, has a troubled history. According to reports in The Times (Trenton, New Jersey), Pro-Tec did not issue notifications when equipment was out of service, fell behind on training, paid low wages, and had high employee turnover at Trenton Mercer Airport in New Jersey. Pro-Tec also paid low wages at the MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Illinois, according to the Belleville News-Democrat,” added Homan.


“The firefighters/medics currently at Des Moines International Airport have saved lives by responding to medical emergencies at the airport. The airport has a huge footprint of over 2,600 acres. The Des Moines Fire Department cannot guarantee that they will be able to respond to fire and medical emergencies at the airport in an adequate time frame. Outsourcing fire and EMS services at the airport would put lives at risk,” added Homan.


“The current firefighters/medics at the Airport have extensive training in crash fire and rescue and in emergency medical response. The Des Moines Airport Authority Board should recognize that these firefighters/medics’ training and experience are an asset that should be utilized,” added Homan.


“Des Moines International Airport has recently experienced great growth in the number of passengers it serves. As the airport grows, it should not lose its commitment to safety. We call on the Airport Authority Board to reject the proposed contract with Pro-Tec Fire Services at their next meeting. The Airport Authority should instead pursue a course that maintains current services using the current well-trained firefighters/medics as public employees,” added Homan.






Pro-Tec did not issue notifications when equipment was out of service. The Times (Trenton, NJ) reported in May 2000 that “Another issue about Pro-Tec has come to the fore in recent interviews: whether notices to airmen (NOTAMs) were issued as required by FAA regulations when fire trucks were out of commission. West, who has worked at Trenton Mercer for two years, said that NOTAMs need only be issued if 24 hours pass and no replacement vehicle is in place. But FAA rules state that a NOTAM must be issued immediately if a truck is out of service, even if only for a few hours for something as simple as an oil change, Peters said. The airport should also temporarily reduce its index, which refers to what size aircraft can be handled by firefighters at the airport. According to Russer, to avoid needing a NOTAM, chemicals for firefighting were transferred to another truck to maintain the ability to handle emergencies. But the truck had no equipment to dispense the chemicals. Barlow, who said he performed mechanical work when he worked for Pro-Tec in the mid-'90s, said trucks were regularly out of commission at the time, yet no NOTAMs were issued. The former Pro-Tec fire official who spoke anonymously said there may have been times when NOTAMs should have been issued and were not. The issue is a gray area, he said.” [The Times (Trenton, NJ), 5/13/2000]

Pro-Tec promised additional training to get a contract renewal. The Times (Trenton, NJ) reported in June 2001 that “[County Administrator John] Ricci said the bid won by Pro-Tec, the lowest of three submitted, required that the firefighters get the additional training.” [The Times (Trenton, NJ), 6/8/2001]

But when airport officials followed up, the training had not been completed. The Times (Trenton, NJ) reported in June 2001 that “airport officials found some employees were deficient when they asked them for their credentials, he [Ricci] said.” [The Times (Trenton, NJ), 6/8/2001]

At Trenton Mercer Airport, Pro-Tec paid low wages and was ending health benefits. In April 2000, The Times (Trenton, NJ) reported in April 2000 that “Board members were upset to hear Skinner and Russer talk about an hourly salary of $7.97, with the company pulling all medical benefits on March 1, although few employees companywide used them.” [The Times (Trenton, NJ), 4/26/2000]

At Trenton Mercer Airport, there was 75 percent turnover in five years and equipment was in poor condition. In April 2000, The Times (Trenton, NJ) reported that “also, they were upset to hear from West of 75 percent turnover in personnel since 1995, and that the larger of two fire trucks, built around 1984, needed work on a broken turret, which directs foam on a fire.” [The Times (Trenton, NJ), 4/26/2000]

In 2001, Pro-Tec paid employees in Illinois low wages. The Belleville News-Democrat reported in February 2001 that “currently, firefighters [employed by Pro-Tec Fire Services at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport] earn $8.09 an hour, while captains earn $8.99 an hour.” [Belleville News-Democrat, 2/28/2001]

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