Waco’s smallest, least busy fire station is getting a new firetruck costing $820,000, and it is worth every dollar, Waco Regional Airport Director Joel Martinez said.
The new aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicle will replace a similar truck in use at Station No. 10 at the airport since 2002.
Waco will use part of a $2.63 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to buy its new vehicle. The rest will go to reconstruct a taxiway and apron and to buy almost 40 acres of land near the north end of the runway as a shield against encroaching residential development in the China Spring area.
“We’ve been negotiating with landowners throughout the summer and should reach a deal in October or early November,” Martinez said. “They have been more than fair with us, are not holding us to a higher expectation on price.”
Despite the airport fire station’s low call volume relative to other Waco stations, it plays a crucial role, he said. For one, the FAA and airlines have minimum fire protection requirements, and the new truck could be a feather in the airport’s cap as it pursues expanded commercial air service, Martinez said.
Station No. 10’s two-person crew goes on standby when a plane encounters problems during flight and an emergency is declared. The team sometimes assists with removing debris from the landing site and has even been known to herd deer away from the landing path and help with runway inspections.
“It’s a matter of preparedness,” Deputy Fire Chief R.M. Bergerson said. “Fortunately, there have been no major incidents there the past few years, but that has nothing to do with our commitment.”
Bergerson said the department expects delivery of the truck, manufactured by Oshkosh Airport Products in Wisconsin, as early as December. It is replacing an E-One Titan the Waco Fire Department started using in June 2002.
“Our new truck will be similar to the one we have, holding 1,500 gallons of water with a foam complement, just with a different brand and updated equipment,” Bergerson said.
He said the station at Waco Regional Airport is the smallest of the 13 stations in operation, including one near Texas State Technical College airport that sports a staff of six.
So far this year, Station No. 10 has responded to 107 calls, about 12 per month, he said. The whole department handles more than 14,000 calls annually, according to the city’s website.
An airport assignment is not for everyone, but some firefighters gravitate to the work, Bergerson said. Firefighters at the station have to take a 120-hour training course and annual refreshers, he said.
American Eagle is the only commuter now serving the Waco market, using regional jets to make five flights daily to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, local Eagle manager Sue Holgersson said.
Waco Regional also accommodates general aviation, non-regularly scheduled traffic that includes charters, private planes and corporate jets, Martinez said. Bringing back daily commercial flights to Houston is among the airport’s recruiting priorities, he said.
Through August this year, there have been a combined 77,132 enplanements and deplanements at Waco Regional Airport, a dip of 3,221 from the first eight months of last year, according to statistics provided by Martinez.
Martinez said air service remains a point of emphasis for the business community, and he regularly receives inquiries from the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce and executives with high-profile companies.
He said he furnishes data to United Airlines, which provides commuter service to Houston from Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport. He tries to keep United “in the loop” should it consider expanding into Waco. United Airlines’ contract with Killeen-Fort Hood recently expired, but a one-year extension has been approved, Killeen Aviation Director Matt Van Valkenburgh said.
Waco’s air service remains an asset, said Kris Collins, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.
“We have direct flights to D-FW, which is one of the largest hubs in the world. You can be anywhere in the continental United States in four hours,” Collins said. “It is sometimes easier to access cities on the East Coast from Houston, but we get where we need to be, and Eagle does a great job of providing scheduling flexibility and maintaining aircraft quality. It offers a 5 a.m. departure and a 10:30 flight home in the evening, great for business.”
Collins said surveys show locals fly for business most often to Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Atlanta. There have been discussions about pursuing direct flights to at least one of those destinations, she said.