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103rd firefighters practice confined space rescue

By Staff Sgt. Steven Tucker | 103rd Airlift Wing | Sept. 10, 2019

EAST GRANBY, Conn. – How would an Airman trapped inside a C-130 fuel tank be rescued?

This is the question firefighters from the 103rd Civil Engineer Squadron answered during a confined space rescue exercise at Bradley Air National Guard Base Sept. 8.

The annual exercise is a joint effort with fire and emergency services, the 103rd Maintenance Squadron fuel systems maintenance shop and 103rd Airlift Wing safety office. Together, the team devised a plan to rescue a maintainer "injured" inside the confined space of a C-130 fuel tank at the base's fuel cell and corrosion control facility.

This environment presents challenges beyond the physical constraints of a tight space.

"There are atmospheric hazards that can be associated with confined spaces," said Master Sgt. Zachary Daniel, 103rd Civil Engineer Squadron fire and emergency services assistant chief of training. "Lack of oxygen, too much oxygen and the presence of other chemicals released in that confined space could make it dangerous to go in."

Firefighters mitigate these risks by evaluating and adapting to the environment upon arrival.

"We meter the air ahead of time to get our baseline readings, and if necessary, we can supply oxygen to make it a livable space and limit the risk factor," said Master Sgt. William Riggott, 103rd Civil Engineer Squadron fire and emergency services assistant chief of operations. "We also try to control electrical hazards; if there is a flash hazard, we de-energize the entire area."

The firefighters' coordination with maintenance is essential to execute a successful rescue, Riggott said.

"The cooperation between agencies is very important — going to their facility and being able to look at the aircraft, identify anchor points, and come up with backup plans in case 'Plan A' doesn't work," Riggott said. "This way, everyone responding has seen the fuel cell and what we're using to egress the person out."

The unique aspects of this type of rescue make it critically important to practice, Riggott said.

"Situations like this are high-risk, low-frequency; we don't get many of these calls," Riggott said. "So when we do, it's important that we know the game plan, how to operate all the equipment, and going in there prepared."