ROANOKE, Va. April 9 2017 The Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport is consolidating its police and fire operations. Its new Public Safety Department is expected to save money and make overall emergency response better.
The change brings two different departments under one roof. As part of the move, law enforcement officers became sworn police officers and Airport Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) crews will go from being third party contractors to direct employees of the airport.
Employees that stay on through the consolidation will be both firefighters and police officers. Some of the current third-party contractor firefighters will lose their jobs because they are retired Roanoke City Firefighters and the consolidation aligns those positions with the Roanoke City pension system, meaning they can't continue to work and receive money from the city.
With the new model in place, there's a big recruitment for people who can do both. At the Roanoke Blacksburg Regional Airport, fire and police make safety priority No. 1. It's specific work here and they're the first line of defense.
"It's good to have that person that's in uniform that can do anything during an emergency, not just specialize in one particular thing," Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport Public Safety Department Director Ben Cook said.
The newly formed Public Safety Department does that bringing fire and police under one Director. That's retired Vinton Police Chief Ben Cook with decades of experience in both.
"There's a lot of things we do during the course of our duty that a normal local police or fire person may not be exposed to and we have to learn all of that as well," Cook said. "If I'm a police officer and that's all I do and I maybe don't know a lot about EMS or I don't know a lot about fire but a fire or an EMS emergency occurs, people are going to be looking at me to help out so it's good to have that person in uniform that can do anything during an emergency."
Whether rookies or veterans to the airport, they'll all become recruits in what they don't know. The first fire recruits will receive specialized airport fire training in a few weeks.
"Everybody needs to know and be able to accomplish the task correctly and quickly they need to know what they're going into and what they need to have to face that situation," Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport Public Safety Department Captain and fire recruit Ray Clark said.
The new protocols other regional airports' structures, and airport leaders say its the most efficient way.
"I think across the board this is going to be a good solution when you have your public safety officers trained to handle really any situation that will arise at the airport," Brad Boettcher said.
On shift, they'll stick to one duty alternating regularly. If all goes to plan, travelers won't notice a thing.
"We can go either place and have that person fall right into place and be able to operate efficiently," Cook said.
By making this change to a full sworn department the airport commission will be able to leverage the purchasing power of the city. That means cheaper prices on equipment. All of this is expected to save the airport money in the long run. Which the airport hopes leads to lower fares.