It was mid-May, and the 10,000-square-foot aircraft rescue and firefighting facility (ARFF) at Valley International Airport had concrete block walls about three feet high.

Things have changed since.

The $2 million facility will house the airport’s new Striker Oshkosh 4×4 and Titan Force specialized firefighting trucks, as well as providing living and training space for nine specially trained city firefighters.

With another $1 million spent fitting out the interior, the state-of-the art facility will be the center of emergency operations for the airport.

The initial completion date was August or September, but today airport officials say the facility will be good to go by mid- to late November.

Bryan Wren, assistant director of aviation for Valley International, conducted a walk-though of the building last week along with David Wolf, who serves as onsite construction inspector for the airport.

This is what we saw.

The workout, then sleep

The walls are not only in place now, but the ductwork and the electrical wiring are in, too. Most of the drywall is up and taped but not painted.

As we enter the structure, Wren points out to where a big painted mural of the airport’s two prized firefighting vehicles is going to go.

Next, the exercise room.

“It’ll have all their weight equipment, treadmills, ellipticals,” Wren said.

The restroom facilities followed, and the showers were impressive.

“There are three identical restroom facilities. What’s impressive is the size of the shower, especially for the firefighters because usually they’re pretty bulky men, and the height of the shower head is actually higher than normal.”

But Wren was quick to point out the three bathroom facilities are separate and “we could actually convert one into a restroom for female firefighters.”

“Here there will be six toiletry lockers so they can lock up their utensils and toiletries for each individual so they don’t have to keep taking them and bringing them,” he said.

Luxurious, but still work

Since firefighters, when on their shifts, don’t have the luxury of running out for pizza or carry-out, the facility is more like a hotel with all the amenities.

“This is the laundry, which will have a wet sink and washer and dryer, cabinets.”

As for sleeping quarters, Wren points out the amply-sized single rooms are built for one firefighter per shift.

“So you’ll have A shift, B shift and C Shift, three firefighters per shift,” he added.

Next up, individual wardrobes which are built into the walls for each firefighter, clothing spaces which they can lock and leave. The beds are full size/extra-large, and the rooms also will have a desk and chair, Wren said.

“The building will have Internet in each room, and wi-fi throughout,” he said.

What would a firehouse be without a warning system? While there is no fire pole on the one-floor building to slide down, the emergency alert system will be automatically triggered, Wren said.

“The crash system when the alarms go off will automatically turn these lights on, the dorm lights and the hallway to the bay, and it will also open the doors,” he said. “If that phone even rings, all that just happens, no one has to do it, it’s just done.”

Day room, and Viking range

Living facilities for the firefighters include shared spaces where the team can congregate.

“This is a TV day room, and it’ll have a couch, captain’s chairs,” Wren said. “They want an 80-inch curved TV. I don’t think I’ll go that far, but I might give them a 70-inch.”

All the end tables in the day room will be wired with USB ports and plugs to access the internet or charge phones and tablets.

And then there’s the room Wren believes may be the most important one, at least by firefighter standards.

“The fire station was designed around this spot,” he said. “This is the six-burner, double oven with chrome griddle Viking stove with a massive vent.

“This here, imagine on your side, counter height cabinets with granite countertops and an L going that way, and then they’ll step up for bar seating on the other side,” Wren said. “There’ll be bench seating here, L-shaped with a table here and four chairs over here at a dining table.

The kitchen area will have walk-in pantries and closets — three actually, one for each shift.

“Here will be the 27-cubic-foot commercial freezer and fridge,” he added.

Not all day is going to be down-time. In fact, training will be a big part of each day for the firefighters.

“There’s a floor receptacle, that’s built in down there that has conduits that come up,” Wren says, pointing to a space in a room off the kitchen and day room. “It has a TV screen, a smart TV, for any training they need to do, or PowerPoints.

“This wall is where we’ll put their ARFF simulator with three TVs to wrap around and then we’ll put the chair and build the console system right here.”

The simulator is for the firefighting trucks, Charlie 1 and Charlie 2, which cost $560,000 and $830,000 respectively.

“It’s a simulator for the trucks, for the high-reach turret,” Wren said. “In that the fire captain or training instructor can simulate pretty much anything he wants. This thing’s so advanced when you’re in it and if you spray people evacuating the plane, they’ll actually duck and cover because you got them wet in the simulation.

“He can make it do whatever he wants,” Wren added. “He can re-light the fire, he can put it out and have it start at another site, or have another accident happen, and so on.”

The software for the simulator is modeled after an airport in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Convincing the FAA

The software has an interesting back story of its own.

“We were the first federally funded ARFF simulator that the FAA actually paid for,” Wren said. “Because of that, it’s kicked off a massive series of businesses trying to get into it. It was $22,000 for the software and the console system. The console system mirrors exactly what’s in the truck.

“I was told no by the FAA at first, and I explained to them, ‘I’m buying a truck with a HRET —

High Reach Extendable Turret — and don’t you think it’s in everybody’s best interest to train them on a simulator with the exact controls that are in the truck, and it works exactly the way it does in the simulator as it does the truck, versus them going out and accidentally clipping or tilting it the wrong way and its $250,000 to replace and you guys paid for it?’

“And they said, ‘You know, you’re right.’”

Wren said he assumes every airport in the nation was happy to find out the training software and console are now federally fundable items.

For the officers, there are separate duty rooms for the on-duty lieutenant and captain.

The captain’s office is well-windowed, and he or she will be able to look practically simultaneously at the apparatus bay that houses the firefighting trucks, the front of the bay or the airfield.

The apparatus bay where the trucks are stored also will serve as a workshop, with a massive air compressor for pneumatic tools — “they’re already drooling over it” — to fast-fill hydrants to restore water to the trucks quickly if needed.

One of the water fills hangs in a hose from the ceiling, along with a partner hose which will deliver firefighting foam to the tops of the trucks when a refill is needed.

As the buzz and bang of construction continued to ring through the structure, it was a reminder of just how far the facility has come.

“Seeing it all put together really makes you appreciate the amount of work that goes into the design,” Wolf said. “It doesn’t happen by accident.”

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer