Orange County supervisors on Tuesday authorized the potential privatization of aircraft rescue firefighting services at John Wayne Airport, which now are provided by the Orange County Fire Authority.
Federal Aviation Administration regulations mandate a minimum level of aircraft firefighting services in addition to the coverage for the airport terminal by a local Irvine fire station, part of the county’s contract with the fire authority for fire protection in unincorporated areas.
With the $5-million annual contract for aircraft firefighting services slated to expire at the end of December, Board of Supervisors Chairman John Moorlach successfully moved to allow the airport to request statements of qualifications from companies interested in bidding on the contract.
County staff estimated that it would take nine months to obtain alternative proposals to the fire authority service. A transition to an alternate vendor would take about four more months, the staff concluded.
According to the airport staff report, statements of qualifications would be due by Dec. 4. County officials would expect to return to the Board of Supervisors by February with a list of qualified companies.
If the board then chose to proceed, the staff assumes that companies' proposals would be due by April. The Board of Supervisors could be considering proposals in open session as early as July, the report suggests.
The quiet mood on Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors was in contrast to the last time the issue was debated on Nov. 22, 2011.
At that meeting, supervisors agreed to a one-year extension to the aircraft firefighting services contract while they studied providing the service in-house or by contracting.
At that meeting, Joe Kerr, then OC Professional Firefighters president, told supervisors they were jeopardizing public safety by tinkering with the minimum staffing standards at the airport to save a reported $600,000.
Irvine Mayor Suhkee Kang also came to the meeting protesting that a change to the service would have “a dire impact on the city of Irvine’s coverage."