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Practice makes perfect in tight spaces for Flying Yankees

During the 103rd Airlift Wing’s June training assembly, first responders from Bradley International Airport and Connecticut State Police aided 103rd Maintenance Group fuel systems maintenance personnel in a confined space exercise. The exercise featured a simulation of an individual who needed to be rescued from the fuel bay of a C-130 Hercules. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Emmanuel Santiago)

During the 103rd Airlift Wing’s June training assembly, first responders from Bradley International Airport and Connecticut State Police aided 103rd Maintenance Group fuel systems maintenance personnel in a confined space exercise. The exercise featured a simulation of an individual who needed to be rescued from the fuel bay of a C-130 Hercules. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Emmanuel Santiago)

During the wing’s recent training assembly, first responders from Bradley International Airport and Connecticut State Police aided the fuel systems maintenance personnel assigned to the 103rd Maintenance Group in a confined space rescue exercise. The training exercise featured a simulation of an individual who needed to be rescued from the fuel bay of a C-130 Hercules. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Emmanuel Santiago)

During the wing’s recent training assembly, first responders from Bradley International Airport and Connecticut State Police aided the fuel systems maintenance personnel assigned to the 103rd Maintenance Group in a confined space rescue exercise. The training exercise featured a simulation of an individual who needed to be rescued from the fuel bay of a C-130 Hercules. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Emmanuel Santiago)

During the 103rd Airlift Wing’s June training assembly, first responders from Bradley International Airport and Connecticut State Police aided 103rd Maintenance Group fuel systems maintenance personnel in a confined space exercise. The exercise featured a simulation of an individual who needed to be rescued from the fuel bay of a C-130 Hercules. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Emmanuel Santiago)

During the 103rd Airlift Wing’s June training assembly, first responders from Bradley International Airport and Connecticut State Police aided 103rd Maintenance Group fuel systems maintenance personnel in a confined space exercise. The exercise featured a simulation of an individual who needed to be rescued from the fuel bay of a C-130 Hercules. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Emmanuel Santiago)

BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, East Granby, Conn. -- During the 103rd Airlift Wing's June drill, Flying Yankee fuel systems maintenance personnel conducted a confined space training exercise at Bradley National Guard Base, East Granby, Connecticut, where they simulated the extraction of an injured Guardsman out of the fuel bay of one of their recently-acquired C-130 Hercules aircraft. The exercise is an annual requirement for the wing and, according to Master Sgt. Jonathan Shepard, fuel systems shop chief assigned to the 103rd Maintenance Group, the Guardsmen are making milestones with the new aircraft by familiarizing themselves with these types of worse-case scenarios.

There are multiple hazards within the fuel bay that an individual can encounter when conducting routine maintenance. While inside the fuel bay, workers have to be properly equipped with the right safety gear, considering they're in low-level oxygen environments. Maintenance workers have to wear full-faced respirators which can fatigue the individual faster than usual. Another hazard that is possible is an individual can be rendered unconscious if he or she manages to accidently bump their head within the confined space.

In the event that a maintenance worker needs to be extracted from confined space, the workers around him are expected to be first responders. They are also relied upon to radio the maintenance operations center which will initiate the 911 protocols, notifying the fire department and other responders at Bradley International Airport. The responders show up to the scene within minutes and utilize collective efforts to rescue the individual from the fuel bay.

The Flying Yankee team isn't the only one working hard to familiarize themselves with the new aircraft. First responders from Bradley International Airport as well as the Connecticut State Police are also adding various tools from their arsenal in the event of an incident.

"It's pretty important to know that we have the great fire department behind our back," said Master Sgt. Jonathan Shepard, fuels supervisor with the 103rd Maintenance Squadron. "Should something happen, they're here to rescue us which is why we do the training every year."

During the exercise, the fire department also took advantage of the opportunity to use one of their recently-acquired ladders to aid in the extraction. For the first time, they devised a pulley system that allowed them to use the ladder as a high point to safely lower a stokes basket off of the wing of the C-130 that held the simulated-injured individual.

"It's incredibly beneficial to us," said Staff Sgt. Gustavo Claudio, a firefighter assigned to the 103rd Civil Engineer Squadron. "The fact that we get to train in worse-case scenarios with our neighboring emergency responders in order to be on top of our game is important."

Prior to acquiring the C-130, the 103rd flew C-21 aircraft and, according to Shepard, the C-130 is a whole new world. Naturally, the fuel bays are much bigger, and there is more confined space in which personnel must work.

"Each aircraft presents its own barrier...for us to surpass," Shepard said. "It's important that we keep progressing in the training that we're doing for this aircraft so that we have the quick response."