Maintainers and fire fighters team up for extraction exercise

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Airmen from the 167th Fire Department and the 167th Maintenance Squadron fuel systems repair flight participated in a confined space emergency extraction exercise, June 9, at the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va.

The exercise simulated an individual 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.

“We already knew that we had that aircraft coming in for maintenance work on that fuel tank, so we figured why not set the exercise incident up”, said Master Sgt. Adam Pletcher, 167th fuel systems supervisor. "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. Each of the access openings on top of the wing to the fuel tanks are only a foot wide.

The exercise began inside a hangar with two fuel system members on the wings of a C-17. A mannequin was placed inside one of tanks while Tech. Sgt. James Cline, a 167th aircraft fuel system mechanic, supervised the operation. Cline immediately called for help to notify the fire department after losing communication with his wingman, the mannequin, inside the tank.

Fire department personnel arrived quickly and the "victim" was rescued expeditiously.

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