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On June 13, a MK104 rocket motor, used as a second stage of an Aegis Ballistic Defense missile, was being dissected (cut open) at the Large Motor Test facility in Building 1776 on Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head to obtain propellant samples to perform testing to determine if the service life of these overage assets could be extended.

During the dissection, the rocket motor inadvertently ignited.

Instantly, fire suppressions systems that were installed, maintained and operated by Naval Support Activity South Potomac’s Public Works Department, doused the fire as designed, minimizing facility damage or secondary ignition of other energetic material and eliminated the risk to personnel.

Although the intense heat damaged the surrounding facility, overhead hoist and rail system, and miscellaneous equipment, there were no injuries or structural damage.

The in-house Production Department of Public Works played a critical role in designing, installing and maintaining the fire suppression systems that are located in test facilities operated by Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (NSWC IHEODTD). Water from the Potomac River is pumped and delivered through 60 miles of piping to high hazard process buildings containing energetic materials. The high-speed fire protection/deluge systems are designed for immediate activation and a continuous run time of 30 minutes after an event, as required per local procedures.

The properly functioning fire suppression system quickly eliminated the fire caused by the ignition prior to the arrival of NSASP firefighters. Upon arrival of the fire department, the Public Works Department’s line crew was called to secure power to the facility so that the building could be safely assessed and evaluated. Efforts by NSF Indian Head Public Works personnel minimized damage and confined it to the building.

Naval Support Facility Indian Head hosts a variety of tenant commands including NSWC IHEODTD, which focuses on the research, development, testing, evaluation and in-service support of energetics and energetic systems. The majority of testing, development and manufacturing of energetics have inherent risks associated with them and require state-of-the-art facilities, many of which are maintained and designed by the Public Works Department at NSF Indian Head.