Airport fire protection a money-loser for fire department

Fire chief says it costs half-a-million-dollars more to keep firefighters at airport fire hall than YYC pays for the service.

City gives notice it will pull out of airport fire hall unless it gets a better deal

The Calgary airport authority owns the firehall and equipment at YYC but the City of Calgary provides the firefighters under an agreement with the authority. (Calgary Fire Department)

Providing fire protection for the runways at the Calgary International Airport is a money-loser for the City of Calgary.

Fire chief Steve Dongworth won't disclose how much the Calgary airport authority annually pays the city for staffing its fire station.

But he does say that the yearly payment falls $500,000 short of the city's actual costs.

For that reason, the city has given YYC until the end of September to negotiate a new contract or Calgary firefighters will no longer provide runway incident protection at the airport.

For his part, the chief would like to reach a new deal with the airport that ensures at least a break-even situation for his department.

"We'd like to still be there in 10, 20 years time but we're not going to do it on the back of the Calgary taxpayer," said Dongworth.

City firefighters work 24/7 at airport fire station

The fire department ensures there are four firefighters on duty at all times at the YYC fire station.

Dongworth said that requires a total of 20 firefighters to be assigned to the job to ensure round-the-clock coverage. 

However, he suggests there should be more than four firefighters on site given the need for an initial response to an incident involving a large aircraft.

That too — not just the cost — is part of the negotiations with YYC.

"We are going to make sure that if we do have staff there that they are well enough staffed to provide an adequate response for an emergency there."

The chief said the area that his staff are responsible for has increased. A couple of years ago, YYC opened a new runway along with associated taxiways.

A new international terminal also opened in 2016, although any fire or medical calls inside that building are handled by Calgary fire crews who do not work at the airport station.

Budget cuts increase pressure on fire department

The fire department is under financial pressure.

City council voted in November to cut $4.5 million dollars from the department's budget for 2018.

Dongworth said he's optimistic those cuts can be made without directly affecting front-line service to Calgarians.

YYC owns the airport fire station as well as the specialized firefighting trucks based there so it theoretically could hire its own firefighters for the facility.

The airport authority declined to do an interview on the matter.

However in a statement, YYC spokesman Dean Paddock said: "We are doing our due diligence and reviewing the options available to us to ensure seamless and safe operations. Our guiding priority will continue to be the safety of our passengers, partners and employees."