EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - A new firehouse at Atlantic City International Airport will replace a smaller, decades-old facility to make the department more efficient and help reduce response times.

The new building, at 40,700 square feet, is more than double the size of the old building and cost about $15.4 million. It was 95 percent funded by a Federal Aviation Administration grant and a 5 percent match by the South Jersey Transportation Authority, said SJTA acting Executive Director Sam Donelson. The FAA grant was a competitive grant for airport improvements.

The airport fire and EMS departments were previously housed in a building about one mile away from the new facility on the William J. Hughes Technical Center property, according to airport fire Chief Ed Conrow. The space in the 1960s building was so limited that some of the trucks were parked outside the building and other equipment was housed in a building near the new facility.

"We actually had to park a couple of our firetrucks outside, which you don't want to do with a $300,000 piece of equipment," Donelson said at the ribbon-cutting for the new firehouse Friday.

A larger facility, updated equipment and proximity to the airstrip were considered in order to create a more efficient emergency response team, Donelson said. The new facility is separated into three areas: living quarters, administration and the engine bay.

The living quarters for the firefighters have been upgraded to include a workout room and individual beds, rather than bunk beds, in separate rooms, Donelson said. A large kitchen with a commercial gas stove and large refrigerator, next to a TV room, are all part of the improvements to give the firefighters ample personal space during their 24-hour shifts.

The new workout room helps ensure the firefighters aren't injured by the pounds of equipment they have to suddenly jump into when fighting a fire - a common source of injury in the profession, Donelson said.

New administrative offices include an emergency operations room. Additionally, dispatch for airport emergencies will be handled by State Police about 12 miles away. An extra communications room was built in the new facility as a backup.

Some of the upgraded equipment in the apparatus bay, where the trucks are housed, include easy-to-access charging stations and easier material transfer.

For example, when loading foam into the engines, it is done through a nozzle and pumped in from a locally housed tank rather than manually loading from a 55-gallon drum, Donelson said.

The new location of the firehouse, which is the new operation center for 20 firefighters and emergency medical services personnel, is critical to reducing response time for an emergency on the airstrip, officials said.

A recent plane crash in San Francisco that killed two passengers is an example of why it is necessary to have the firehouse closer to the airstrip, which will reduce response times in case of an emergency, Conrow said Friday during a tour of the building. He can see about 95 percent of the airport from his corner office on the second floor, which will help him immediately react to an emergency on the airstrip.

"This is part of a grand plan that many of us have had for many years to strengthen the footprint of the campus," said U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who attended the ribbon cutting Friday.

"It's not something sexy that people will see, but it is crucial infrastructure," said LoBiondo, R-NJ.

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