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ARA Develops Fire Fighting System for Antarctic Community

How do you put out fires in a place with weather so cold that fire truck engines freeze? ARA helped answer that question recently for the U.S. Air Force and National Science Foundation (NSF) when additional fire fighting resources were needed in Antarctica. The Air Force provides logistical support for scientific missions in Antarctica, landing aircraft filled with people and equipment on McMurdo Station's ice runways.

Built in 1955 by NSF, McMurdo is the hub for scientific operations from the coast to the South Pole. It has a population of more than 1,000 during the summer months of October through February, when temperatures rarely reach above freezing and airlift capabilities are key to survival.

During the busy summer months when airlift operations are at their height, McMurdo's fire department must operate two runways simultaneously, straining their limited resources. Often the fire and rescue equipment necessary for crash protection, and the heaters used to keep it from freezing, must be shifted back and forth between runways. So NSF approached the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) about developing an additional fire fighting resource for McMurdo Рa highly mobile piece of equipment that could withstand the rugged terrain and subzero temperatures. "For NSF, we designed and prototyped a Combined Agent Fire Fighting System, of CAFFS, to provide low-maintenance, easy to operate and highly effective aircraft fire protection at McMurdo," said Jennifer Kalberer, who works for ARA's Engineering Science Division under contract with AFRL and served as project officer.

The CAFFS is configured as a skid-mounted unit that can be carried on the back of a flatbed truck. Roughly one-ninth the size and weight of a P-19 crash/rescue fire truck, its compact size makes it easy to deploy for use on the flightline. It uses compressed-air foam, aqueous film forming form (AFFF) and potassium bicarbonate (PKP) dry chemical agents to extinguish pool and running fuel fires.

Firefighters and use the foam and PKP agents separately or in combination. When used in combination, the foam forms a cylinder that encases the PKP stream and ensures maximum range and accurate application of both agents to the base of the fire, which is critical in an environment where the average wind speed is 14 mph. Specialized for subzero environments, the CAFFS/AFFF includes an antifreeze agent and salt-based chemical that enables firefighters to use it in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

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