HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
“Get everybody out!”
Through complete chaos, those three words instantly popped into the head of U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. John Barron, a production superintendent with the 801st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, when the fire suppression system activated in the hangar he was supervising, unleashing high expansion foam in every direction.
“We are trained on what to do in the event of a fire, which was the initial reaction,” said Barron. “Once we realized there was no fire, we flexed to the situation.”
Aircraft hangars are equipped with foam fire suppression systems to protect U.S. Air Force aircraft and assets. While the type of foam used in this hangar does not contain perfluorooctanesulfonic (PFOS) or perfluorooctanoic (PFOA) acids, it can still be harmful and deadly to personnel.
“Each member of the 801st knew their priorities: people, planes and equipment, in that order and acted accordingly,” said Barron.
When the foam expanded, it began creeping closer to the CV-22 fleet and actually came in contact with the aircraft, Barron commented.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Mitchell Przybocki, a flight commander with the 801st SOAMXS, began assessing the aircraft once everyone was accounted for and out of the hangar.
“Leadership from the 901st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron sent over a tow vehicle and our team began towing the aircraft,” said Przybocki.
While the reason for the foam incident is under investigation, one thing became clear; the high level of professionalism and leadership of the six units who handled the mishap.
“The support from other squadrons on base was indispensable,” said Barron. “I can’t thank them enough for putting their priorities on hold to help us out.”
Both Barron and Przybocki said the mission does not stop when disaster strikes. They resumed flying operations the following day.
“We continued to fly as other members cleaned,” said Barron. “It took about three days to clean and a week to completely clean and lubricate the aircraft.”
Przybocki said the four Airmen who came into contact with the foam have all been cleared by medical and all affected aircraft are safely flying sorties after the incident.
Barron said while he was left in charge, he did not direct every action that took place. “Leaders at all levels have to know and understand the intent of those above them and be able to act without asking.”
Barron also credited his team’s success to their ability to perform under pressure.
“The biggest point I can’t emphasize enough was the team’s ability to interpret the situation and react.”
When faced with chaos, Hurlburt Field’s Air Commandos continue to live by their motto “Any Time, Any Place.”