USACE FIRE PROTECTION EXPERTISE USED WORLDWIDE
The Transatlantic Division’s Middle East District has been home to the Aircraft Hangar Fire Protection Technical Center of Expertise (TCX) since 1989, when the district, then known as the Middle East/Africa Projects Office or MEAPO, responded to an inquiry for assistance troubleshooting a fire protection system in Shemya Island, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands. With only two fire protection engineers on staff, MEAPO helped resolve the issue. In light of the impressive performance, in-depth report, and thoughtful recommendations, the Air Force requested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) establish a TCX at MEAPO.
Today, the TCX provides fire protection expertise assistance wherever it’s needed around the globe, through design and construction of fire protection systems, and acceptance tests for aircraft hangars. The center now operates with four full-time fire protection engineers and provides services to USACE, other military organizations, and the Department of Homeland Security.
According to Tom Stephenson, chief of the district’s Building Systems Design Branch, the TCX responds whenever and wherever they are needed. Most recently, one of the fire protection engineers was in Honduras to investigate an existing Army National Guard hangar with a malfunctioning foam extinguishing system. Before that, the TCX supported the Pacific Ocean Division’s Alaska District with a Foreign Military Sales case in Hindan, outside of Delhi, India.
“We have done tests in Korea, Germany, and the Bahamas, from Maine to Hawaii,” said Stephenson. “In the last five years alone, we’ve tested 25 to 30 aircraft hangars, and inspected more than 30 for the Coast Guard just in the past two years. Currently, we’re in Norway testing hangars.”
A major part of the TCX’s responsibilities includes ensuring all fire protection systems are installed and operating correctly and as designed. TCX members are required to witness preliminary and final acceptance testing for all devices, including smoke detectors, heat detectors, trouble systems, connections, alarms, reporting mechanisms, and more. Foam discharge systems are another vital area inspected. “A silhouette of the aircraft stored in a hangar will be outlined on the floor and must be covered in less than 1 minute,” said Stephenson. “In less than 4 minutes, non-hazardous and non-toxic foam must be at least 1 meter deep. The biggest hazard in an aircraft hangar is not that an aircraft will burst into flames, but that its fuel will. That’s why it’s important to get that foam down quickly, to cover the floor, to smother any potential flames. Ninetynine percent of fires start on the floor in an aircraft hangar.”
TCX fire protection engineers are involved with contractor-executed testing, as well. If any device fails to meet the required standards, the contractor has to work on the systems and prepare for a second test.
“There are more than 150 years of fire protection experience among the fire protection engineers at the district, each with his own talents, strengths, and abilities,” said Stephenson.
The district’s four fire protection engineers stay busy and still keep a bag packed for all the testing trips and potential life-saving services worldwide. n