HARLINGEN, RGV – A new Airport Rescue and Firefighting Facility was in the masterplan for Valley International Airport for some time.

Now, thanks in large part to the Federal Aviation Authority, the facility has been built.

“The cost of this facility was a whopping $3.8 million. Ninety percent, though, was funded with airport improvement program dollars at the FAA in Fort Worth. The other ten percent was handled through the passenger facility charges we charge here at the airport,” said VIA Aviation Director Marvin “Marv” Esterly, in remarks given at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new building.

Among those in attendance for the ceremony was Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell, and Harlingen City Commissioners Tudor Uhlhorn, Michael Mezmar, and Victor Leal. Representing Harlingen Economic Development Corporation was its executive director, Raudel Garza. Some of the VIA board members were also present.

“Today marks a special chapter in the history of Valley International Airport: the unveiling a state-of-the-art aircraft rescue and firefighting station,” Esterly said. “This facility has been in the planning stages for some time now as part of the airport masterplan. At 10,000 square feet of new space, we have plenty of room for expansion, with three large vehicle bays, a one-of-a-kind training facility with the latest simulation technology, and dorms that can house up to nine aircraft rescue and firefighters.

Esterly gave a special shout out to Sarah Conner, who works in Fort Worth for the FAA. Conner was at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Esterly said Conner was a “very humble” project manager. “Let me tell you, without this girl’s work we would not have this facility or half the projects at the airport. She has truly, over the last few years, been a big asset.”

Esterly said VIA would have fire and rescue support 24/7, in the form off three shifts of one lieutenant and two engineers.

He added that with the latest fire and rescue technology, VIA can meet the needs of any fire rescue challenge the airport could imagine.

Harlingen Fire Captain David Lompra said the new facility was necessary because two new 1,500-gallon firefighting trucks could barely get into the old building.

“They are very large vehicles, much larger than the older versions, with a larger wheel base they are more stable on the ground. They would barely fit in the old facility. the old building was very dated,” Lompra told RGV Public Radio 88FM and the Rio Grande Guardian.

“The old building was built back in the early 1970s, I believe. The training room was pretty much our living room and kitchen area. Training was crammed into one small area. Here, we have an expanded training area. The FAA is very critical about training.”

Lompra said the firefighters working at VIA are thrilled with the new facilities.

“This is the only one of its kind in South Texas, probably south of Corpus. You won’t find another station of this caliber.”

José A. Mulet is director of marketing, air service development and airline ground handling at VIA. He told 88FM:

“This is a $3.8 million, state of the art, airport fire station facility. The only one of its kind in South Texas. It is 10,000 square feet with room for nine full-time firefighters in three different shifts. This station is open 24-7 to take care of any emergency needs at Valley International Airport. And, we have two brand-new, state of the art fire trucks here. The station is unique because it has a training facility with a simulator, to teach the firefighters how to drive these sophisticated fire trucks.”

Mulet said there are radio communications throughout the airport connecting to the control tower. “When there is an emergency, say a pilot calls in with landing gear problems, it will ring a phone here which automatically tells the fire team what to do.”