Photo: T. Cornell and ADA Museum Ft. Bliss


The main camp fire department was between the mess hall and supply, sort of in front of the chapel. I get asked why we needed a fire department out in the middle of the desert. Listen, these guys had their hands full all of the time. In the early days tents caught fire regularly. The gasoline fired stoves in the mess hall were a hazard as were the kerosene heaters in each barracks. Down range was where most of the action took place. When a Nike launched, its booster expelled chunks of burning solid propellant, which set the tall dry grass on fire.

The fire I remember most vividly was the grass fire that threatened the down range mess hall, which was only a couple of large tents. The firemen came racing to the scene, the wind shifted and down range mess tents and the fire truck were all consumed by the fire.

Dangerous materials were common at the Ordnance Branch where the missiles were assembled, fueled and warheads installed. Ordnance had their Quonset and other buildings midway between the camp and the Nike Sets. Nike Ajax missiles burned JP-4 jet fuel and Inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid (IRFNA). There was also a small quantity of either aniline or Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) used as a hypergolic igniter with the IRFNA. Each missile had three warheads for a total of 300 pounds of shrapnel encrusted High Explosives. Powerful Primacord was used to detonate the warheads and split the missile in half in an emergency procedure called "Destruct." A missile could be manually destructed inflight if it veered off course and endangered people or property. Inflight missiles which lost contact with their ground radar for two seconds would automatically self-destruct. Each booster was a very large container of solid propellant which, when ignited, could not be extinguished. Explosive squibs were used to ignite the propellant. The missile business was and still is very dangerous, and a good fire department is an absolute must. Firemen are trained in depth on every hazardous material they might encounter. It is a hard, dirty, often thankless job.

The date of this photo is unknown, but it is after the chapel was built. The tip of the steeple can be seen above the cab.