John Wayne Airport officials are scheduled to present a plan to the Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday that cuts one firefighter position per shift from the station that serves the airport, a move that will save $600,000, the officials say.

The proposal is in response to a request by supervisors that the airport lower its firefighting costs or outsource firefighting altogether.

The firefighters union has reacted strongly to the proposal, saying it threatens passenger and firefighter safety.

Under the proposal, the aircraft rescue firefighting staff will be reduced by one fire apparatus engineer per shift after the service takes delivery of a new “rapid intervention vehicle.”

Even with the reduction, the airport “would continue to exceed all FAA/ARFF standards under the reduced staffing levels proposed in the Agreement,” according to the staff report.

But Joe Kerr, president of OC Professional Firefighters, argued that the staffing levels recommended are the lowest level allowable under Federal Aviation Administration regulations. Kerr said officials are “playing Russian roulette with airport safety” by reducing staff levels even by one person.

Union officials also say that the staff recommendation creates an imbalance at the Irvine fire station that would sustain the cuts.

“Dropping below seven on duty professional ARFF personnel at JWA is a stark departure from the long-term [Orange County Fire Authority] firefighting tactic of tasking firefighters to rescue trapped and/or endangered passengers,” wrote union official John Latta in a Nov. 15 letter to the fire authority.

“The OCFA will have to develop new tactics that rely on the aircraft passengers self-rescuing,” he wrote.

Airport officials have been working on negotiations over the staffing levels since earlier this year. In August they requested a three-month extension from the Board of Supervisors to finish negotiations.


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