Facilities Repair and Renewal team 'fireproof' hangars at Joint Base Andrews

U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsvillle
Published Oct. 30, 2014
A foam test is conducted at Joint Base Andrews, Md.

A foam test is conducted at Joint Base Andrews, Md.

A project to install a High Expansive Foam System and fire alarm system into all the maintenance hangars at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, presented a unique challenge for Installation Support and Program Management Directorate's Facilities Repair and Renewal Program at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville.

"This is the first time Huntsville Center's FRR team has done this type of work. We finished the work on hangar 13 and awarded hangar 14 last year. This year, we awarded the work on hangar 12 - the final hangar on this task order. The dollar value on these projects total $5.4 million," said Mike Murphy, FRR program manager at Huntsville Center.

Aircraft hangar safety involves a wide range of issues depending on the work that is being accomplished on the aircraft parked in the hangar. Issues that may come into play are hazardous fluids, slippery surfaces or falling objects and fire safety. Xavier Thigpen, the FRR project manager who provides oversight for the hangar projects at Joint Base Andrews said the most catastrophic safety issue in an aircraft hangar is an uncontrolled fire.

According to Thigpen, there are many ways a fire could be ignited during aircraft maintenance. Any flammable liquid being employed by maintenance personnel can catch fire, causing death or serious physical damage. High Expansive Foam Systems – generally used in contained areas, such as aircraft hangars, mines and ships, where volume fire control is required – are highly important to the safety of individuals performing aircraft maintenance in the hangars in the event of a fire. The high expansion foam concentrates extinguishes fires involving both Class A fuels and flammable liquids.

Since 2012, Thigpen has worked closely with private contractors and project engineers at USACE's Middle East District to complete the upgrades on schedule.

The Middle East District is the Technical Center of Expertise for Aircraft Hangar Fire Protection in USACE, providing fire protection engineering assistance to Corps offices involved in the design and construction of fire protection systems for aircraft hangars. Their goal is to assure hangar fire protection systems are designed and constructed to be as cost effective, reliable and maintainable as possible.

Contractors have to perform several extensive tests of the hangar's fire sprinkler system and fire alarm system; mass notification systems have to be performed prior to actually making the 2 percent low level High Expansion Foam System's foam drop. USACE Middle East District provides the final decision on test success.

Thigpen said fire suppression foam comprises three parts: foam concentrate, water and air. When mixed correctly, these parts form a homogeneous foam blanket that extinguishes flames by the combined mechanisms of cooling, separating the flame source from the product surface, suppressing vapors and smothering. In addition, the hangar's silhouette has to be covered to a minimum of 1 meter within four minutes. The FRR team accomplished this test within approximately two minutes, 30 seconds in hangar 13.

Murphy said the hangar projects at Joint Base Andrews are very important to his program and the Center because they are representative of the work Huntsville Center is capable of providing to customers.

Thigpen said successfully completing the tests means hangar occupants now have a safer work environment.

"In the past, occupants had to rely on dry pipe sprinkler systems, with limited capability to effectively control fires. Using this type of fire suppressant is favored because high-expansion foam concentrates form vapor barriers on hazardous material spills and fuel leaks," Thigpen said. “For 13 years now, high expansion foam has grown in the protection of aircraft hangars utilizing non-hazardous foam concentrate. The largest single reason is that it will generally have a lower water requirement over other protection methods."

With the final hangar project nearly complete, Murphy said he and his team are looking to the future.

"These projects have been very successful – we're looking forward to getting more work of this type for our program."