Cutbacks at airport may lead to layoffs

City officials say air safety won't diminish

Posted: Friday, February 11, 2000

The Juneau Airport plans to cut the amount it pays the city for fire and rescue services by about $180,000 for fiscal year 2001.

The change could mean layoffs of up to three Capital City Fire and Rescue firefighters. It could also mean the city would have to move the Glacier Fire Hall, or find money elsewhere to boost the department's budget.

The reduction corresponds to a change the airport board is proposing in the airport's Federal Aviation Administration safety index rating. The new rating would require one less fire truck to respond to aircraft emergencies. The current rating requires two aircraft rescue firefighting trucks to respond.

``Coupled with other proposed budget cuts for city departments, that change could mean a total of six firefighters laid off,'' said Max Mielke, the Glacier Fire District's volunteer chief. ``The department hasn't had an increase in firefighters since 1984, and the police department has tripled in that time. That's not right.''

The cuts could affect the department's service to Mendenhall Valley residents, Mielke said.

A consultant who evaluated the fire department agreed.

``Should the airport board adopt the (rating change), the reduction of staffing at the Glacier station would have a direct effect on the level of service provided to the valley area,'' the consultant said in a December report.

Currently the Glacier Fire Hall is staffed with 18 career firefighters and 33 volunteers.

``The shortfall could be taken care of in other ways,'' said assembly member Jim Powell, the panel's liaison to the airport board. ``The very last thing we want to do is lay off a firefighter, and I am not for moving the fire station.''

Adjusting funding for equipment, moving personnel, and even boosting the fire department's budget could all play a part, he said.

The assembly could also reject the airport board's budget change, which would preserve the airport's current rating, Powell said.

``The assembly has the flexibility and the responsibility to put the money where it should be put,'' he said.

Former airport manager Dave Miller advised against reducing the index rating.

``The airport manager feels retaining the . . . grading is essential based on the volume of traffic arriving and departing from the airport,'' a department report said.

But the airport board decided months ago to apply for the FAA change, and the budget completed at its Wednesday meeting reflects that, said Acting Airport Manager Allan Heese.

``We do have a lot of needs: personnel, rising fuel costs and other expenses. Some of the saving in the ARFF (rating) change could go toward that,'' he said.

``The important thing to remember is that the fire department does an excellent job. We are not reducing safety. We are maintaining a safe airport,'' Heese said.

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