News: Anatomy of a FAT: Fire suppression systems on Kandahar Airfield pass the test
Story by Karla Marshall
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Fire suppression systems in certain hangers require mandatory performance tests before aircraft can be stored or maintained in them. On Feb. 26 and 27, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversaw Final Acceptance Tests at four hangers on Kandahar Airfield with much-anticipated foamy results.
The foam test is the last of a battery of tests conducted earlier in the week that included testing the fire alarm control panels, fire suppression panels and the sprinkler systems. For each FAT, the construction contractor lined the perimeter of the hangars with plastic sheeting prior to the test. After an alarm sounded for several seconds, the hangers filled with foam to a depth of almost seven feet in about two minutes.
“These four fire suppression system tests and subsequent tweaks represent the final phase of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that included the construction of 12 hangars, or airlift shelters, for both U.S. Air Force fighter and surveillance aircraft, 51,000 square meters of aprons and taxiway pavement, maintenance facilities, an avionics shop and a potable water pump house,” said Veronica Rife, the lead project manager for military construction who deployed from USACE’s Louisville District.
This multiphased construction project supports counterinsurgency efforts in southern and eastern Afghanistan explained U.S. Army Col. Vincent V. Quarles the Afghanistan Engineer District-South commander.
“The pilots and crew who maintain the aircraft can be effective when they have appropriate facilities from which to execute their mission. The Corps of Engineers supports these war fighters by delivering high-quality, safe facilities and the FATs are critical final steps to ensuring the shelters meet specifications and design requirements.”
The tests are important to ensuring that damage in the event of a fire is reduced explained Matt Polley, a Middle East District center of excellence fire protection engineer, on hand to verify the test results.
“The foam is bio-degradable and glycol based,” he said.
The foam creates a three-dimensional blanket which suffocates the fire and protects entire aircraft from fire damage.
“When the foam dries out, usually within 24-36 hours, it becomes a powdery substance that can be swept away easily,” said Polley, a graduate of the University of Maryland.
The test included such things as measuring the volume of foam dispersed in a set period of time, concentration and mix of foam to water, foam pressure and the speed at which the foam dissolved. Polley said that the foam system comprises multiple systems that all must work together.
“It is very important to test each system individually as well as concurrently,” he said.
“Each hangar has a high expansion foam system, sprinkler system, fire alarm, and fire suppression alarm. Those systems all communicate back to a central receiving station located in another building which then tells the fire pumps in another separate building to turn on. There is a lot going on when the foam pull station is pulled; a lot more than just the foam coming out of the ceiling,” Polley explained.
“It is an amazing site to see,” said Rife. “I hope nobody ever needs to use the systems in any of the hangers, but if there is a fire, we know the systems will work as designed.”
The system’ three generators are designed to produce about 150 gallons of the foam/water solution per minute each for about 15 minutes, Polley said.
“I am proud of the engineers, project managers and construction representatives who worked to complete each of the facilities in this contract,” said Quarles. “The project was complex and large. The team overcame numerous obstacles and with the completion of these last four hangers, the Air Force will have exceptional facilities from which to carry out their missions.”