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.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON PRO-TEC FIRE SERVICES FROM NEWSPAPER REPORTS:
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]