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Best with what they’ve got: Protecting the firefighters

By Senior Airman Tessa B. Corrick 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

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Editor’s note: This article is the second of a three-part series centered around the theme of “doing the best with what you’ve got” and how it relates to innovation, lethality and mission success.

A firefighter is not only able to do their job due to rigorous amounts of training, but because of specialized Personal Protective Equipment that safeguards them from the harmful situations they willfully enter to save the lives of others.

For the 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron fire department, the preservation, inspection and distribution of the base’s entire collection of life-saving equipment is managed by three Airmen.

“There are all kinds of contaminants that can get in our gear and cause us harm,” said Airman 1st Class William Boyle, 2nd CES firefighter and member of the PPE program. “We take the gear and put it through a rigorous cleaning process, which makes it safe to wear again. We have also been trained by the manufacturers on how to inspect and complete small repairs.

The team can turn four sets of gear in less than 24 hours. However, it is no small task. Boyle, Tech. Sgt. Harold Young, 2nd CES crew chief, and Senior Airman Nicholas Kapulsky-Agnew, 2nd CES driver operator, work around the clock to ensure the more than $400,000 worth of gear is maintained and accounted for.

“At Barksdale, we are sitting at about 70 percent manpower, which means the guys in charge of program have other jobs within the fire department,” said Senior Master Sgt. Tiefton Chatman, 2nd CES deputy fire chief. “The job of upkeeping the PPE can come at 10 o’clock at night when they’re on shift and sometimes even on their days off.”

Recent updates to regulations now require each firefighter to be equipped with not only one full set of PPE, but two. This has led the team to become more resourceful and cognizant of how the PPE is managed.

“These guys have spent a lot of time going through old equipment to pick and choose pieces that could play a role here,” Chatman said. “They might not all have a matching set, but these Airmen have worked hard to ensure their fellow firefighters are going to get their jobs done safely.”

The issues still pose a challenge for these Airmen, but it has not prevented them from providing service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to not only their fellow firefighters, but to everyone on base.    

“We have three values that we uphold in the fire department - desire, ability and courage,” Chatman said. “Right now, we have a lack of ability due to a deficiency of resources; but the overabundance of desire from these guys is making up for that. When everything else fails, they do whatever they can to make it work.”