The Partnership for Public Service is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages good government in a variety of ways, one of which is a series of Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies) to public servants whose outstanding achievements have improved the lives of Americans and others around the globe. This year’s list of 30 finalists includes Constantine P. (Gus) Sarkos, manager of the Fire Safety Team at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center.
Many who live outside the Beltway seem to find the career civil servants at fault for any national problem. The 1961 Presidential Inaugural speech by President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” was an oratorical cry to all in America for all to consider public service. That memorable speech, which brought so many talented people to Washington, appears to have been forgotten.
The Sammies is an effort to herald the value of the many dedicated federal employees who do “good” for the public. The Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), rose on the floor of the House on May 8, 2015 to commend Mr. Sarkos for his efforts on aircraft fire safety. [The Tech Center is located in the Chairman’s district.]
Mr. Sarkos earned bachelors and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Rutgers University. After working at the General Electric Reentry Systems Department, he joined the FAA in 1969. His work at the Tech Center focused on improving fire retardation and suppression in the aircraft passenger cabin and the cargo hold. Using the FAA’s most extensive civil aircraft fire test facilities in the world, he and his team tested materials for flammability and researched what systems were the most effective in detecting and extinguishing onboard fires.
The Tech Center organization under Mr. Sarkos’ leadership has issued more than a dozen changes in the FAA regulations in this area; not surprisingly, his recommendations have been quickly adopted. The head of ICAO’s cargo safety section regards Gus’ opinions as “absolutely invaluable.”
His recent research on non-rechargeable lithium batteries’ flammability resulted in the airlines’ prohibition on the carriage of these shipments and was cause for his otherwise obscure team to receive greater and more appropriate attention. That’s an example of the value of his preventative measures. Perhaps even more impressive are the numbers of survivors of the 2013 Asiana 241 crash, the 2008 Continental Denver crash and the 2005 Air France accident. There are 728 people who should thank Mr. Sarkos’ work because they all were able to disembark those aircraft without fire injuries.
Practically every fire safety improvement mandated by FAA over the past 20 years is a product of the fire safety R&D program. The most recent examples of the group’s innovative work have resulted in new, more stringent fire test standards for thermal acoustic insulation; the development of a simple, cost effective fuel tank inerting system, which enabled the FAA to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking to prevent fuel tank explosions; and the retrofit of the U.S. airline fleet with cargo compartment fire detection/suppression systems – a total of 3,400 aircraft were retrofitted.
Sarkos has authored more than 60 reports and papers related to aircraft fire safety, and he has lectured on the subject at 75 technical meetings. His outstanding work has earned him 31 awards, during his 36-year FAA career. These include the Distinguished Technical Center Employee of the Year, the Department of Transportation Secretary’s Award for Meritorious Achievement, and induction into the U.S. Space Foundation / NASA Hall of Fame.
President Kennedy would be proud that Constantine P. Sarkos joined federal service 8 years after his Inaugural Allurement. Hopefully the “Sammy” award’s publicity will attract more Gus’s to government service.