NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, NEV. — The 99th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Flight Airmen provide more than just gas mask fit tests, they provide first response during a mishap, conduct environmental health assessments, thermal assessments and more.
These Airmen provide crucial information to the incident commander in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear mishap.
Bioenvironmental Airmen have been identified as first responders because of their ability to assess what, if any, environmental or health risks may be present at a scene as a result of an incident.
“When we come on a scene, we want to see if there are any known CBRN agents in the area, and then check the risks of those agents spreading or lingering in the area,” said Staff Sgt. Marigold Westbrook, 99th AMDS Bioenvironmental Flight special surveillance NCOIC. “When we are on scene surveying for hazards, we are gathering data that will help give the incident commander our assessment of health risks.”
Westbrook added that as first responders, bioenvironmental Airmen come in, monitor, sample and recommend.
When data is gathered from a mishap response, bioenvironmental Airmen immediately analyze the information to give the doctors at the Mike O’Callaghan Federal Medical Center a list of confirmed or potential hazards involved, signs and symptoms of exposure, and how to mitigate and decontaminate.
“After we analyze the samples we obtained from the site, we then suggest to the doctors whether we think the people who are or could be affected will show signs immediately or down the road,” said Tech Sgt. Margaret Collins, 99th AMDS Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight NCOIC.
Mishaps may not occur every day, but the bioenvironmental Airmen train to always be prepared.
“Each year, we have a 40 hour hazardous material Computer Based Training with a test at the end,” Collins said, “Then we have a practical exercise with the fire department to ensure we can actually implement what we learned. Each Friday, we train either in house on our equipment or we take part in a joint exercise with [the 99th Civil Engineer Squadron] Emergency Management on a topic we both want to train on.”
Collins also said Airmen can train every day and prepare for every scenario but until they step onto the scene and start analyzing what is going on, they can never be prepared for a mishap. The Airmen train as if it were a real world event every time they suit up.
“The greatest part of my job is when I put all the training into action during a mishap and we are able to either detect a dangerous area or help mitigate what could later be a problem,” Collins said.
When bioenvironmental Airmen aren’t ensuring Airmen are fitted correctly for a gas mask, they are preparing to respond to a mishap. Evaluating and recovering information from a mishap scene may not be used often, but when vital to the safety of the people involved, it can become an integral skill needed to ensure mission safety and success.