NEWS | April 20, 2015

Fuel Tank Extraction exercise tests first responders

By Senior Airman Jared Trimarchi Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Airmen from the 437th Maintenance Squadron and firemen from the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron participated in a Fuel Tank Extraction exercise April 17, 2015, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.

The exercise simulated an Airman losing consciousness inside a fuel tank aboard a C-17 Globemaster III, requiring rescue by first responders.

"The purpose of this exercise is to provide a realistic experience to first responders of a situation which we would all hate to happen," said Tech. Sgt. Keadrick Williams, 437th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuel systems repair craftsman. "Having an unconscious Airman inside of a fuel tank is a serious problem due to the small size of the entrance and the restrictive layout of the tanks."

Fuel systems Airmen perform routine maintenance inside fuel tanks to fix cracks, check for damage, replace fuel system components and remove foreign objects. Fuel vapors can overcome  an Airman if the required respirator fails while working inside a tank. 

The exercise scenario began with Airman 1st Class Brandon Batista, noticing his wingman, Airman 1st Class Emilee Sharp inside the fuel tank and unresponsive. The fire department was notified immediately. When first responders arrived on scene, they simulated extracting Sharp from the tank by carrying a 200 pound mannequin  off of the C-17.

"If this were a real situation, I would have done everything in my power to get my wingman to safety," said Batista, a 437th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuel systems repair journeyman. "Being the smallest guy in the shop, I am grateful first responders have practiced in case I was ever in this situation."

A C-17 can hold approximately 180,000 pounds of fuel and has four tanks which run along the wings of the jet. A C-17 with an extended range carries six tanks and can hold 240,000 pounds of fuel. Each tank has an entrance which measures approximately 11 by 8 inches.

"Getting inside of a fuel tank can be a challenge and we usually use our smaller Airmen for the task," Williams said. "The tanks range in size from as big as a walk in closet to as small as a coffin."  

Although extractions from a C-17's fuel tank are a rare, fuel extraction exercises are a necessity, Williams said.

"Luckily I've never known anyone to pass-out inside of a fuel tank and I am glad these types of situations are tested," he added. "The exercise was a success and the relationship between the 437th Maintenance Squadron and the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron has grown. Every time we have an Airman go inside of a fuel tank, we notify the fire department. We actually work closer with them than most people would think."