Gary airport replacing city fire protection with in-house rescue and firefighting team

Members of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority unanimously agreed Tuesday to end a contract with the city of Gary for specialized firefighting services and to instead permit airport operator AvPorts to operate its own airport rescue and firefighting services starting Sept. 1.

GARY — City firefighters no longer will be stationed at the Gary/Chicago International Airport starting Sept. 1 when the company operating the airport takes over responsibility for airport rescue and firefighting services, also known as ARFF.

On Tuesday, the airport authority unanimously agreed to allow airport operator AvPorts to hire and equip its own ARRF team, rather than continuing to contract with the Gary Fire Department for the specialized protection services.

"We are extremely happy with this initiative. It will be a cost savings for us and the city as we realign," said Duane Hayden, Gary airport director.

Curt Ulmen, AvPorts' Gary airport manager, said planning for the change has been underway for about six months, and AvPorts already is working to hire and train the personnel necessary to take over ARFF on Sept. 1.

"Anybody that has the firefighting qualifications and an ARFF qualification, we'd be willing to take a look at," he said.

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Ulmen explained that bringing ARFF in-house means funds from the Gary-Chicago airport compact can be used to cover firefighter salaries, eliminating expenses currently paid by the airport authority as well as the city's costs associated with airport fire protection.

He said no Gary firefighters will lose their jobs as a result of the transition. The firefighters regularly stationed at the airport instead will serve elsewhere in the city.

"We're working with the city's fire department to try and get this turned around quick enough so they can get those firefighters back in the city of Gary where they need to be," Ulmen said.

In other news, the Gary airport last month recorded its 50th international arrival since the October 2018 opening of a permanent Customs and Border Protection facility eliminated the need for private plane passengers and crew to stop elsewhere in the United States before deplaning at Gary.

"I think the word is finally getting out there that we're open, we're close to all the major Northwest Indiana hubs, we're close to the Chicago area, and everybody is beginning to realize that they can fly here without having the air traffic issues that they would if they flew into Midway or O'Hare," Ulmen said