A federal grant will help the Casper-Natrona County International Airport enlarge its training facility for airport firefighters, which will allow more firefighters from across the country to participate in training with a greater degree of realism.

The Federal Aviation Administration grant for $8.7 million will help the airport reconstruct its Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting regional training facility, buy a new 3,000-gallon firefighting vehicle and expand the Airport Public Safety Facility to provide dedicated training space.

In a statement Tuesday, Airport Director Glenn Januska said the facility at the Casper airport is seeing a higher volume of firefighters from other airports coming in to train.

The training facility in Salt Lake City recently closed, Januska said, and the facility in Denver has been restricted to serve local Denver airports only.

"What that has done is reduce the available facilities, which has increased the demand for a facility like ours," Januska added.

"Because of this, we will be modifying the facility to allow a larger aircraft mockup, allowing bigger airports to train here," he continued. "Finally, there are fewer and fewer facilities that use diesel fuel like ours to simulate an aircraft fire, opting for propane gas which doesn't provide the same level of realism."

The current training facility at the Casper-Natrona County International Airport was built in 1995, and the dedicated 1,500-gallon training vehicle currently in use went into service that same year.

"Both the facility and vehicle are reaching the end of their useful life, so without these funds to purchase a new vehicle and reconstruct the training facility, we would be looking at winding down the operations here," Januska said. "To extend the life of the facility and training vehicle, plus provide much-needed training space, will allow the facility to be used many years in the future."

The total cost of the project is estimated at $9.3 million, Januska said. He explained that the state and the airport will pick up the difference of roughly $600,000.

Commercial airports are required to have trained firefighting personnel available to respond to an emergency. As part of the mandated training, those firefighters have to participate in what's known as a "live burn" each year, where crews extinguish a simulated aircraft fire.

The Casper-Natrona County International Airport currently conducts training burns eight days per year. Airport staff also teaches a 40-hour class for new firefighting personnel.

Since 1995, the airport has provided training for 2,400 Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting personnel from 80 departments across the country.