CMXG, Fire Department joint exercise finds best practice for fuel tank rescue

  • Published
  • By Kendahl Johnson
  • 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The 309th Commodities Maintenance Group has the unique responsibility of maintaining parts of the B-52 Stratofortress, including the aircraft’s 700-gallon fuel tank.  The particular challenge of fuel tank maintenance is workers need to crawl inside the tank to do the work. To ensure maintainers tasked with this difficult job could be rescued in the event one was trapped in a tank, the group ran a joint exercise with the 775th Civil Engineering Squadron Fire and Emergency Services Flight.

The current process for rescuing a worker trapped inside a fuel tank, as outlined by a technical order, is to pull the worker out of the confined space via a rope tethered to the worker’s leg. When leaders recognized that this was an inefficient and ineffective means of rescue, they were determined to find an alternative method. 

“We knew that pulling someone out didn’t really work too well and that we’d have to scramble if there was an emergency and we needed to get someone out quickly,” said Lonnie McKowen, external fuel tank shop supervisor. “We looked at several methods before determining that cutting the person out was the best option.”

The team grabbed a condemned tank and then reached out to the fire department to see if they’d be interested in practicing cutting a hole in the tank large enough to rescue a trapped worker.

“It was a great opportunity for us,” said Joshua Jex, assistant fire chief. “Although we felt confident we’d be able to safely rescue someone, cutting through a fuel tank is something we never get to practice. We have many new firefighters who have never cut before so it was the perfect opportunity to practice and get our team some experience.”

The firefighters experimented with five or six different tools to determine which would be the quickest and most effective in cutting a fuel tank, settling on the K-12 rescue saw.

Sandra Fitzgerald, 309th CMXG director, said they take every precaution to ensure maintainers can safely operate within the small confines of the fuel tank.  They wear full protective gear with respirators and are monitored throughout the process. She felt it was important to practice rescuing someone in the event of a worst-case scenario.

“We have the responsibility of protecting our team, and they need to have the assurance that if they were trapped in a tank, they would be rescued quickly and safely,” she said. “We had never practiced this rescue with the fire department, and it was a good opportunity for both units.”