CH-47s lined up at Knox Army Heliport, Fort Rucker, Ala. (Photo Credit: Photo by Holly Sterling) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Almost a year’s worth of hard work, planning, research and coordination paid off in December for a Fort Rucker team tasked with a mission that had never been done locally – testing the high-expansion foam fire suppression systems at two aircraft hangars.

Col. Whitney B. Gardner, Fort Rucker garrison commander, complimented the team on its success in carrying out the tests, and avoiding any disruptions to aircraft maintenance or flight training efforts.

“Fort Rucker was able to complete required fire foam testing and certification of aircraft maintenance hangars at both Hanchey and Knox airfields without any significant impact to flight training or contract aircraft maintenance on the AH-64E and CH-47F fleets,” Gardner said, adding that the success was the culmination of a detailed planning and coordination effort led by the Directorate of Public Works, the Directorate of Public Safety, the garrison safety office, the Aviation Center Logistics Command and its aircraft maintenance contractor, M1.

“Thank you to everyone involved in this operation that will help protect Army resources,” the colonel added. “The fact that you all made it seem so easy is a testament to the hard work, creativity, planning and coordination you put into it the last year.”

For more than five years, the required tests were waived because of the high chances they had of affecting aircraft maintenance schedules and, in turn, flight training, according to Patricia J. Durham, chief of the Aviation Center Logistics Command Logistics Division.

The two hangars, 50400 at Hanchey and 25165 at Knox, are the only ones at Fort Rucker equipped with the high-expansion foam fire suppression systems and leadership assumed what it considered a low level of risk to equipment in not testing the systems, Durham said.

Leadership was comfortable with assuming the risk to equipment because of a number of factors: people always being in the hangars because of the 24-hour maintenance operations in them, fire departments close by at both heliports and the low amount of fuel that was used or stored in the hangars at any given time, Durham said.

“The fire marshal, in the past, had required a full drop of the foam for the test and that meant we would have to fill the building full of foam and then clean it out,” she said, adding that meant that everything had to come out of the hangar, along with a lot of other preparatory work that would take a lot of time and an estimated $400,000-500,000.

But the Fort Rucker Directorate of Public Works, in conjunction with the Fort Rucker Fire Department, is required to test and inspect all facility fire suppression systems in accordance with Unified Facilities Criteria 3-601-02, according to Johnathon D. Cole, chief of DPW’s Business Operation and Integration Division and acting director.

“The UFC provides requirements for inspection, testing and maintenance of engineered fire protection features in DOD facilities,” Cole said. “The criteria and tasks identified in the UFC represent the minimum required to achieve a 99-percent overall system reliability in response to an actual fire. It is important to test our systems to stay in compliance with requirements and regulations, as well as to obtain a sense of security knowing the facility and its contents will be protected should an actual fire occur.”

Leadership decided the tests should go forward and the team was formed in early 2020 to plan for and carry them out, Durham said, adding that the two facilities and all of the equipment they house is worth an estimated $1.5 billion.

“This was just something that command, at this point, said, ‘We’ve assumed the risk for too long of a period of time, so we’d like to go ahead and get it tested,’” she said. “We started early enough to where we were able to come up with a doable plan. It was really good for the team to do it and research everything to try to come up with alternate means to do this, and the fire department was willing to work with us to come up with a way to conduct the test without having to dump 100% of the foam. We were able to return to work the next day – it went really well and really quickly.”

The plan included scheduling the test for the holiday exodus; rescheduling phase maintenance, which is conducted in the hangars, to end just prior to the testing; and pushing water through the system instead of a mass drop of the high-expansion foam to help reduce the extensive clean-up job and lower the moving bill to a more reasonable $30,000-45,000, according to Durham.

The tests were performed Dec. 21-22 at Hanchey and Dec. 28-29 at Knox by the DPW facility maintenance contractor, Pride, via a subcontract to Industrial Commercial Fire Protection, Cole said.

“For this type of system, there are tasks that must be inspected and tested annually, and there are tasks that must be inspected and tested once every two years. These biennial tasks include a test to verify full operability of the foam generators within the system,” Cole said. “We learned just prior to the testing that the UFC allows for water-powered generators to be tested with water flow instead of full foam flow, which made for a drastic change in the clean-up operation we were expecting. Only small amounts of residual foam had to be cleaned up and disposed of – not the large-scale amount we planned for.”

Both systems passed with only minor deficiencies that will be corrected by contract personnel, he said.

“Everyone involved worked diligently to make sure we were prepared. We are thrilled to get these systems certified and ensure the systems will function on demand in the event of an actual fire,” Cole added. “We also gained some valuable information going forward that will allow us to apply some efficiencies and lessons learned for the recertification of these systems two years from now.”