Confined spaces

  • Published
  • By Jessica L. Kendziorek
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. That is exactly what the fuel systems specialists of the 403rd Maintenance Squadron here did Sept. 30 during a confined space emergency extraction exercise.

“Because we work in the confined space of the fuel tank, which is located inside the wing of the C-130J Super Hercules, we are required to conduct a yearly emergency extraction training exercise that involves the 81st Training Wing’s fire department,” said Master Sgt. David Heverly, 403rd MXS aircraft fuel systems section supervisor.

This exercise is used to demonstrate how an individual is safely removed from the confined space of the fuel tank to receiving medical care.

“Our job is to crawl inside the wings of the aircraft to change fuel pumps, manifolds, valves or anything to do with the fuel system of the aircraft and we work in an area smelling of fuel fumes,” said Heverly. “These Airmen are tested for claustrophobia from the start, because some just can’t handle the tight quarters.”

The hangar they work in is modified for fuel system work, he said. It has ventilation going out of the roof so the fuel tanks can be purged so there is little to no fumes in order to make the work as safe as possible and a separate air system for fresh air for use while working inside the tanks.

Heverly also said that they work in three-person teams during maintenance, and this exercise scenario is one reason why.

As one fuel systems specialist is performing the maintenance or inspections inside the tank, the second is outside the hatch on the wing and third is outside on the ground.

For this exercise, they used a weighted dummy, known as Rescue Randy, as the inside fuel systems specialist.  Randy was placed inside the tank and the outside specialist, Tech. Sgt. David Deschenes, was required to call out to Randy. Upon having no response, indicating a passed out Airman, Deschenes notified the ground runner, Tech. Sgt. William Pierce, who called for assistance.

Deschenes then pulled the unconscious Randy from the fuel tank, covered the fuel tank opening. They wait on top of the aircraft wing for emergency services to arrive, who bring the Airman down from the wing to get medical attention.

“As emergency responders, we need to make sure that we are able to extract patients from any confined space at any time,” Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Kuliak, 81st Civil Engineering Squadron Fire Station captain, A shift. “Doing these drills helps us get familiar with not only the aircraft, but also the procedures to remove patients from the wings should they become incapacitated for any reason.” 

As the firefighters arrived, Pierce escorted them to where the patient, Randy, was located. The firefighters then proceed with the extraction of Randy by removing him from the aircraft wing and moving him onto the hydraulic ladder, where members of the 403rd MXS fuel systems section bring the ladder down to get Randy and the first responders off of the wing safely and then getting Randy on an ambulance for medical treatment.

“This is good practice for everyone involved, from the fuel specialists to the fire and emergency services,” said Heverly. “I have been doing this for 25 years and have never had anyone pass out, but again that is why we work in teams of three so that everyone watches out for each other and looks for the signs.”