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Patrick AFB hangar fire suppression system activated

An example of the high expansion foam like the kind activated today at Patrick AFB. Seen here is a hangar at Moody Air Force Base. Photo Credit: Senior Airman Gina Chiaverotti/U.S. Air Force

An example of the high-expansion foam like the kind activated today at Patrick AFB. Seen here is a hangar at Moody Air Force Base. Photo Credit: Senior Airman Gina Chiaverotti/U.S. Air Force

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — At 10 a.m. EDT (14:00 GMT) this morning, Wednesday, Sept. 16, the fire suppression system activated in one of the maintenance hangars belonging to the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida. All personnel were evacuated immediately and it was confirmed that no one was injured during the incident.

Part of the facility’s fire suppression system is high-expansion foam, set to disperse quickly throughout the hangar when activated. With properties much like dishwashing liquid or detergent, it is composed of 97 percent water and 3 percent fire suppression material. The hangar was rapidly filled with the foamy material.

An HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter lands with an Army UH-60 Blackhawk in the background. Two Pavehawks were in the hangar at the time the foam was activated. Photo Credit: Senior Airman Brian Ferguson/U.S. Air Force

An HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter lands with an Army UH-60 Blackhawk in the background. Two Pavehawks were in the hangar at the time the foam was activated. Photo Credit: Senior Airman Brian Ferguson/U.S. Air Force

This substance is environmentally and ecologically friendly, as the elements will gradually break the material down over a period of time. The low concentrations of foam are not viewed as a threat to human health either. However, those involved with the discharge of this material were told that if they had sensitive skin that they would be well advised to wash their skin thoroughly with warm water if they come in contact with the foam.

At the time of the incident, two HH-60G Pavehawk helicopters were inside the hangar and it is unconfirmed whether or not they had sustained any damage due to the release of the foam. The Pave Hawk, which is a heavily-modified version of the Army’s well-known Black Hawk helicopter, aids in the recovery of military personnel in hostile war zones as well as civilian rescue operations. It is one of the two aircraft used by the 920th Rescue Wing in addition to the HC-130 Hercules transport aircraft.

Residing in Cocoa Beach, just south of Cape Canaveral, the 920th Rescue Wing provides support to NASA on search and rescue operations as well as Eastern Range monitoring for launches operations. Also, a resident of Patrick Air Force Base is the 45th Space Wing, which manages both manned and unmanned launches out of Cape Canaveral.

The sudden activation of the system is currently under investigation as well as the damages to the helicopters and other equipment inside at the time.

Although inconvenient, this is not the first time that an incident of this nature has taken place. In 2011, a similar accident took place. Similarly to this incident, Pavehawk helicopters also received a healthy dose of foam.

During the Space Shuttle Program, the 920th Rescue Wing would have served to recover astronauts escaping from one of NASA’s orbiters should the need have arisen. The Wing’s role in recovering downed crews can be traced all the way back to the first flight of the U.S. Space Agency’s Mercury Program in 1961.

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Britt Rawcliffe is a professional freelance aerospace and aviation photographer based out of Pennsylvania with over six years of professional photographic experience. Her creative imagery has spanned into all areas relating to space, including launches, photojournalism, architecture, and portraiture. Britt’s passion for history has been a common thread in much of her work, including having photographed many Moonwalkers such as Buzz Aldrin and Gene Cernan.

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