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EOD robots are potential confined space lifesavers

  • Published
  • By Donovan Potter, 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

HILL AIR FORCE BASE – Generally, Liquid Fuels Maintenance and Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians don’t perform duties simultaneously for safety’s sake, but that’s what happened Feb. 8 near building 825 on Hill AFB.

To avoid sending a human into a potentially dangerous confined space to perform a structural integrity inspection, EOD deployed robots equipped with video cameras to do the job while civil engineers looked at monitors outside in the fresh air.

“We needed to inspect two fuel storage tanks that hadn’t been used for years so we could put them back into service,” said Christopher Hayes, 75th Civil Engineer Squadron, Utilities Systems operator. “Using the robots kept us from having to suit-up and enter the confined space to check the welds and the condition of the metal.”

To send a person in the tank, a confined space program team would have been assembled to be onsite, which includes 75th Air Base Wing Safety, Fire Department and Bioenvironmental Engineering representatives.

“CE would have put together a minimum of a three-person team where one person would enter the tank, one person would monitor an atmospheric meter and observe for emergencies, and the third person would supervise the entry,” said Shane Poulsen, 75th Air Base Wing Occupational Health and Safety manager. “Putting a person in the space potentially exposes them to atmospheric hazards which can quickly cause harm or even death to the entrant and potential rescuers.”

Staff Sgt. Daniel Green, 775th Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician said he was excited to partner with other base organizations to accomplish this operation more safely.

“Our job is to help people,” he said. “We solve unique problems for various customers and this was another great opportunity for myself and my Airmen to not only help out another base agency but also test our robot driving skills.”

EOD used two robots to accomplish the mission. The medium-sized MTTRS 2 and man transportable, dismount MTGR, normally used to detect, confirm and identify hazards such as landmines, unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices in the path of maneuvering forces.

“The robots are extremely versatile, as we found in this situation,” Green said. “They inspected the structural integrity of the two 90,000-gallon fuel tanks and with the abilities of our operators, they confirmed that the tanks are structurally sound and can continue their service life without putting anyone at risk by sending them into a confined space with a fuel-vapor hazard.”

The recertified fuel tanks will be used to store approximately 140,000 gallons of fuel oil worth more than $500,000 that will be transferred from five underground tanks supplying fuel to the base boiler plant in building 260. The underground tanks are being replaced.

Green said the mission was a success for everyone.

“It was a homerun,” he said. “We executed safely and efficiently and satisfied the requirements to keep the fuel tanks operational, all with minimized risk. My Airmen, with their driving abilities, made the whole thing possible and were true professionals from start to finish.”