DES tests fire suppression system
A newly renovated fire suppression system at Phillips Army Airfield on APG North (Aberdeen) was tested Feb. 18 to ensure it functions properly in the event of a fire in the hangar. The high-expansion foam starves oxygen from the environment, extingui... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - The Directorate of Emergency Services (DES) tested a newly-renovated fire suppression system inside the Phillips Army Airfield aircraft hangar on APG North (Aberdeen) Feb 18.

The system, designed to suppress a fire using a high-expansion foam resembling soapy bubbles, is a common fire-fighting tool used inside aircraft hangars. Bill Streaker, DES environmental protection specialist, said the test was a success and the system is functioning.

According to Streaker, the crew dropped about 1,200 gallons of water and 35 gallons of foam during the test.

"We put nine feet of foam in there [hangar] in one minute and forty seconds," he said.

The foam's expansion-time is especially impressive given that the aircraft hangar is the size of a football field. It works by eliminating oxygen, necessary for a fire to burn, from the environment in which is resides.

The foam "moves around objects…it will spread underneath an airplane and more or less encapsulate it," said Steve Hinch, DES assistant chief of training.

Streaker explained that dousing foam inside an aircraft hangar is the better fire-fighting option "because these aircraft have jet fuel in them, a hydrocarbon, so you don't really want to put water on them, because it just spreads it [fire] around. Typically when you see a wreck of a plane, you see all the white foam that they're using. That's so it blankets the fuel."

Streaker said that the airfield mission at Phillips Army Airfield has recently picked up and the hangar is receiving regular usage, so DES is prepared in the event of an aircraft emergency.

"We moved the [DES] airfield crew back out there with the crash truck, and stood up the airbase station as well," Streaker said. "They're there 24/7 for what they call an ARF mission- Aircraft, Rescue, Firefighting mission," Streaker said.

Personnel from the Directorate of Public Works' environmental, hazardous waste, and construction and engineering branches assisted in the operation.

According to DPW Environmental Compliance Acting Branch Chief Janmichael Graine, after the test was complete, the foam had to be cleaned up in an environmentally friendly way.

The foam could not be released into local waterways due to its "high biological oxygen demand," he said. Because the foam starves oxygen from a fire in order to extinguish flames, if it were to enter streams, rivers or the bay it would deplete oxygen in the water to levels unsafe for wildlife.

As a result, the foam had to be collected. Graine worked with DPW Hazardous Waste Branch personnel Fred Leonard and Christy Hornyak to develop a plan to collect the foam.

This plan included letting it coalesce, or condense, back down into a liquid form, using squeegees to collect every last drop of the wastewater solution leftover, and then disposing of it, Graine said.

Despite the foam reaching nearly nine feet high in a football field-sized hangar, DPW had to collect just 300 gallons of wastewater. For comparison, a football field-sized pool six feet deep would hold nearly 2.6 million gallons of water.

According to Hornyak, a physical scientist for DPW, 5,240 pounds of non-hazardous liquid from the foam and water used for cleanup was shipped off site by the APG Hazardous Waste Contractor, keeping the test in environmental compliance and allowing for aircraft to be brought back indoors.

Christopher Sollers from the garrison safety office was also involved in the project, developing a safety risk management plan for the clean-up.

The fire suppression system had been in place for years, but had not been used or tested for quite some time. Repairing the system was a matter of trial and error for construction crews.

A fire pump that proved critical for the foam system's operation was rebuilt, which allowed workers to activate the system and its 300,000 gallon underground tank that supplies needed water to the hangar for the foam system's operation.

"The original scope of work was to replace the existing diesel pumps and waterline to the hanger," said Jaison Radion, DPW engineer and project manager for the construction and engineering portion of the fire suppression system.

"As construction progressed, we encountered situations that required revisions to the scope of work. Each of those situations required an evaluation of the problem, design of a solution, and implementation of that solution," he said.

According to Radion, the renovation took place over two and a half years, from contract approval to system test.

Streaker and Graine both cited the important roles different offices from DES and DPW brought to the test and clean-up.

"This was a team effort," Streaker said.