Consultant: Iqaluit airport firefighters not needed



Costly emergency response services aren’t needed at Iqaluit’s airport says a consultant’s report prepared for the GNWT’s transportation department.

The 37-page report, prepared by Avery, Cooper Consulting, says Transport Canada no longer requires the service, and that the government can save more than $376,000 a year by mothballing it.

Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco says he plans to fight the cuts, but admits the consultants did a thorough job studying the need for emergency response services at Iqaluit’s airport.

Emergency response services fight fires, provide first aid, help people clear the aircraft site, and help evacuate passengers if there in a plane crash.

The ERS crews are also occasionally put on standby during normal landing and takeoffs, and respond to fuel spills, and do airport safety inspections. In 10 months in 1996, Iqaluit’s ERS crews responded to about 70 calls.

Of those calls, 26 were for fuel spills, 21 for hot refueling, 11 were standbycalls, four for fire alarms, and three for crash, accident, incident or medical calls.

Repairs and replacements

The report says if the territorial government wants to keep the service, it will have to spend about $23,000 in repairs to bring the two fire-fighting trucks up to standard.

The report also says one of the aging trucks will soon have to be replaced at an estimated cost of $600,000.

The consultants say the main reason airports create an ERS service is when it is required by Transport Canada. But since Iqaluit’s airport only handles about one-tenth of one per cent of Canada’s air traffic volume, it is not required to provide ERS services.

Airports that process at least 155,645 passengers per year need the service, while Iqaluit’s airport handles less than 90,000 passengers per year.

Costly insurance policy?

Picco says the airport may not have the traffic, but it has had enough mishaps in recent years ­ such as last summer’s CF-18 crash ­ to warrant keeping the service as an insurance policy against any future disasters.

“The ERS is like fire insurance. You buy it, but you might never use it,” Picco says.

But one study cited by the consultants found that the cost of that insurance might be as high as $8.6 million per fatality avoided.

A 1988 study of small airports, including Iqaluit’s, concluded that over a 20-year period, ERS services only would have saved lives and property in three of 6,342 aviation accidents. The study estimated it would cost $8.6 million per fatality avoided.

That means that without ERS services, 1.5 lives might be lost for each 10 million passengers.

“When a nurse can be hired for less than $100,000, it can be concluded that funds may be better invested elsewhere,” the report says.

The consultants also say that northern air carriers say they won’t have a problem if ERS services are removed.

But Picco says he’s hired another consultant to review the Avery, Cooper report, and he continues to lobby Jim Antoine, the GNWT’s transport minister.

“It’s very difficult to get an extra $400,000 for the Iqaluit airport, when we are closing down Delta House and closing other facilities,” Picco said.

The emergency response services is made up of one fire chief, three firefighters and one firefighter trainee.

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