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The long-awaited 182nd Airlift Wing fire station at Peoria International Airport is now open

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After more than a decade in development efforts and two years since breaking ground, the Illinois National Guard 182nd Airlift Wing has its new fire station at Peoria International Airport.

“What a great day. This place is awesome,” wing commander Col. Daniel McCulloch said during Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I'm really excited for the people in uniform, and anybody else that's here today, to be able to walk through this facility and find out how nice this really is.”

The $7.9 million facility replaces a much smaller station built in 1992 and features many improvements to comply with National Fire Protection Association standards. Among them are an upgraded exhaust system in an expanded vehicle bay, and individualized sleeping quarters.

“It’s an incredible upgrade, just the square footage alone — going from around 7,000 square feet almost 18,000 square feet, and (having) the ability to house all of our assets in one place,” said installation fire chief Cliff Otto. “This facility gives us a lot of flexibility and gives us more opportunity to provide service to even more customers.”

Joining McDonough in cutting the ribbon were 17th District U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, 18th District U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, Maj. Gen. Peter Nezamis of the Illinois Air National Guard, airport director Gene Olson, and Jennifer Anderson of contractor A. WBE Construction.

McDonough thanked both congressional members for their efforts in securing the funding for a project that encountered unexpected delays, including the global pandemic.

“It's been about 15 years in the actual process of trying to get people's attention, and then finally trying to work through and past the goal line,” he said. “We broke ground about two years ago, and then seven months later we rolled right into COVID, which created its own problems and the issues that came with that. We fought through that with a lot of hard work.”

Bustos, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said the funding process went through a lot of twists and turns and became “a little bit of a soap opera” when the Trump administration wanted to direct some defense department money toward building a southern border wall.

“I had to be there front and center and fighting and yelling and screaming to make sure that we kept the money here," said Bustos, noting that the old fire station was “not optimal” for firefighters to do their jobs.

“I toured that facility and literally it was like a sardine can. You had people just shoved in together, and you had firefighters with cots in the hallway,” she said. “When you go from the way we used to fight fires to how we respond to emergencies and fight fires today, it is very, very different. It's a 24/7 operation and it’s a 365-day-a-year operation now; it never used to be. So you've got to make those accommodations.”

LaHood said the new station stands as an example of bipartisan cooperation producing results.

“This isn't about Republicans and Democrats. It's about what we can do to help the 182nd. So over the last four years, we collaborated,” said LaHood. “We knew the importance of getting that federal money back here and this is the result of this here today. So putting politics aside, this is a win-win for our community here and I was proud to work with congresswoman Bustos to get it done.”

Construction wrapped up in August on the station that will house 31 full-time and 33 part-time workers. At nearly 8,300 square feet to accommodate larger trucks, the vehicle bay itself is larger than the former station. McDonough said the larger truck bay will improve response times.

“They've got a requirement to meet any spot on the on this facility or any spot on the airfield within three minutes,” said McDonough. “So if it takes a minute to get the vehicle out of the out of the firehouse, then you've only got two minutes to get to where you got to go. So this is a huge upgrade for that.”

Olson said the new station and the equipment it stores exceeds Federal Aviation Administration standards.

“What that means for us is, because they have the equipment and the staffing here, it helps us attract new air service and not have to worry about checking that box on the on the checklist for the airline,” said Olson, who praised the skill and professionalism of the Airwing fire personnel.

“They provide all of our crash response, all of our medical response, and to have them in a new facility that meets all the standards is just terrific,” he said. “It just makes everything operate more efficiently and smoothly.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.