Valley International Airport to begin building and equipping Firefighters Facility

HARLINGEN – So you want to build a little addition on your place.

It’s just your “homeowner’s association” is the federal government, specifically the Federal Aviation Administration.

A total of 102 dense pages of government do’s, don’ts and musts will be your guide.

Valley International Airport officials said yesterday they’re more than happy to comply because it means they’re ready to begin building and equipping the new Valley International Airport Rescue Firefighters Facility.

“We now have state-of-the-art vehicles,” said Bryan Wren, assistant director of aviation at VIA, referring to the new Striker Oshkosh 4×4 and Titan Force specialized firefighting trucks.

“Now we need a state-of-the-art facility.”

The 10,000-square-foot building will cost around $2 million, with additional costs for engineering and architectural work that will take the total tab to just under $3 million. It will be located on the northwest side of the airport, overlooking the runways.

Lead architects on the project are AECOM, the highly regarded global architecture and engineering firm headquartered in Los Angeles. Local architect Meg Jorn of Megamorphosis will serve as AECOM’s local project architect and David Wolf will serve as onsite construction inspector for the airport.

Airport firefighting, known as ARFF, is a special category that involves quick response, evacuation and potentially the rescue of passengers and crew of an aircraft involved in an airport ground emergency. They’re the only civilian fire protection services specifically regulated by a governmental entity, in this case the FAA.

Those new firefighting tanker trucks at VIA deliver foam, dry powder or dry powder mixed with water, depending on the type of fire emergency crews encounter.

The fuel load on an aircraft, and its proximity to passengers and crew, is a combination that in the “real world” are usually kept separate, said Capt. David Lompra, who oversees rescue and firefighting at Valley International.

“Because of that combination, the aircraft firefighting agents that we use have to deal with the copious quantity of fuel, the high-intensity hydrocarbons that are used in the aircraft, that are everywhere if everything goes wrong.

“Our main purpose is to create a rescue path to remove the people in the aircraft to a safe location and then try to extinguish the fire,” Lompra added.

And that response to the middle of any of the three runways at Valley International must occur within three minutes of an accident.

To meet training standards and to keep firefighter certification current, the new building will have a dedicated training room. In that room, the training simulator for the Oshkosh Striker (Charlie 2) allows firefighters to “use” the truck’s features without having to take it out of its parking bay.

“That’s going to get a dedicated, built-in spot in the training area,” Wren said, “so obviously training is

central to all these firefighters in the jobs they do.”

Just a glance at the architectural blueprints tells you this is not your usual facility.

“We have three firefighters on shift at all times, and then a fire captain,” Wren said. “They’re on 24-hour shifts so they’re people who basically live here, it becomes their secondary home.

“So the facility itself is going to have up to three lavatories which will have restrooms and showers, their own laundry facility, their sleeping quarters.”

The new facility will have a fitness area with two treadmills, an elliptical machine and a free-weight area.

The kitchen, Wren said, which firefighters tend to regard as the heart of a fire station, will include pantries and “a six-burner range with griddle, probably a Viking with a double oven.”

For the rest of this story and many other EXTRAS, go to our premium site,

Subscribe to it for only $6.99 per month or purchase a print subscription and receive the online version free, which includes an electronic version of the full newspaper and extra photo galleries, links and other information you can’t find anywhere else.