Hydrazine response team hones skills

  • Published
  • By Technical Sgt. Christopher Stewart
  • 114th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Members of the Crash/ Fire/ Rescue and the Hydrazine Response Team reacted to a simulated hydrazine leak on an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Joe Foss Field, S.D., June 21, 2014. The training exercise is conducted annually to ensure the readiness of airmen with the South Dakota Air National Guard in case of this type of emergency.

Hydrazine, or H-70, is a fuel used in an emergency power unit as part of a backup power system on the aircraft. When activated, the unit provides emergency power for the aircrafts systems in the case of an electrical failure.

"The emergency power is designed to give pilots the time they need to land the aircraft safely," said Senior Master Sgt. Edward Smithback, 114th Fighter Wing Inspection Team superintendent. "H-70 is basically rocket fuel that is used to fire up the EPU."

H-70 is a highly toxic chemical that is colorless and can be easily mistaken for water, but has a smell similar to that of ammonia. Vapors can cause irritation to the eyes and respiratory tract. Short term exposure may cause tremors, while prolonged exposure may cause damage to the liver and kidneys, possibly convulsions or death.

The toxicity of the chemical warrants special handling and procedures to protect those airmen involved with the aircraft. If use of the H-70 has been indicated, either by the pilot, or the small indicators located in multiple locations on the aircraft, the ground crew quickly moves upwind from the aircraft, and the hydrazine response team is called in.

As the first responders, Crash/ Fire/ Rescue are in control of the scene until the aircraft is shut down, the pilot has been removed, and the aircraft is made fire safe. To remove the pilot firefighters bring an external air tank protecting the pilot from H-70 vapors. The pilot and contaminated ground crew will go through a decontamination procedure to rid them of any traces of H-70.

Once unprotected individuals are clear, the hydrazine response team dons hazardous material suits and begins the job of containing the spill, preparing, and decontaminating the aircraft. The hydrazine response team is made up of airman from a variety of maintenance career fields that come together to handle possible hydrazine leaks.
"For safety reasons they work in pairs," said Smithback. "Once the first pair is done with their job, they will leave and decontaminate while two other airmen swap in to complete the next assigned task on the aircraft."

Outside the 300 foot radius, medical personnel attend to the pilot and ground crew. Airmen who may have been exposed to H-70, have blood drawn and submit to a series of medical tests. If airmen show any signs of exposure they are rushed to the emergency room for treatment.

The hydrazine response involves a lot of different people, but is carefully orchestrated, and carried out with great precision.

"All involved are highly motivated and trained individuals who respond to real world hydrazine incidents to protect life and preserve air force assets." said Smithback.