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NEWS | April 28, 2016

628th CES, 437th MXS test confined space rescue ops

By Staff Sgt. Jared Trimarchi Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Airmen and civilians from the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron fire emergency services flight and the 437th Maintenance Squadron fuel systems repair flight participated in a confined space emergency extraction exercise, April 22, 2016, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.

The exercise simulated a person losing consciousness inside one of the four fuel tanks aboard a C-17 Globemaster III.

Members of the fuel systems repair shop perform routine maintenance inside the tanks to check for damage, fix leaks and replace fuel system components.

"Each time we need to go into a fuel tank for repair, we must follow a set of procedures and inform the fire station of our activities," said Master Sgt. Anthony Lawston, 315th fuel system section lead. "Annually we coordinate efforts with the fire department and other agencies to test our ability to handle the high stress situation of having a team member lose consciousness inside one of the tanks."

A C-17 holds approximately 180,000 pounds of fuel inside four tanks which run across the wings. A C-17 with extended range capabilities can hold 240,000 pounds of fuel and essentially has six tanks. The entrance to each tank measures nearly 12 x 8 inches.

"The tanks closest to the fuselage are larger with a little more room in which to maneuver but the outboard tanks can be challenging to get around in," Lawston said. "I'd say it's working in a space about the size of a closet laying horizontally."

The exercise began inside a hanger with two fuel system members on the wings of a C-17. A mannequin was placed inside one of tanks while Chris Robin, a 437th MXS aircraft fuel system craftsman, supervised the operation. Robin immediately called for help to notify the fire department after not be able to communicate with his wingman, the mannequin, inside the tank. 

Robin went into the tank while Lawston supervised the situation from on top of the C-17. Fire department personnel arrived quickly and the "victim" was rescued expeditiously.

"That could be an Airmen in there unconscious or it could even be me," Robin said. "The exercise went very well. It's good to know the people who work around you are committed to getting you out and they know how to handle the situation."

According to Lawston, he has never heard of someone losing consciousness inside a fuel tank but he is glad the exercise is taken seriously.

"People are our most important asset, not the aircraft," Lawston added. "If we have to cut the wing open to rescue a wingman, there would be no hesitation."