Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hot Fuel

I am in the fuel and water portion of my BOLC course. After 4 agonizingly boring days in the classroom, we were pumping fuel Friday. We were working on the Forward Area Refueling Equipment, designed to rapidly refuel two choppers at remote locations. Protocol is for a fire man to cover the service member hooking up the aircraft. The system being used was a "wet" system, actually pumping JP-8 fuel to decommissioned choppers with intact fuel tanks.

I had already cycled through each of the three team positions and volunteered to be the fire man for one of the last two class members. She hooked up to her chopper- a crumbling Cobra- and began pumping fuel. And, suddenly, she was shrieking, clawing at her face.

"She's got fuel in her eyes!" the trainer yelled. Oh, god. I frantically motioned for the pump man to cut the fuel, instantly ran through my options, then dropped my extinguisher and sprinted for her. I grabbed the LT by the shoulder fabric and the arm, and began hustling her towards the emergency shower. Oh, god. Oh, god. This girl's eyes may be riding on my ability to rapidly flush them. How long would figuring out the shower mechanism take? Would that delay cause permanent damage?

Now, I know how people whose eyes are on fire behave. They are very cooperative to those trying to help. The LT wasn't being very helpful. I also noticed that our trainer, who looks like he spends most of his free time in the gym, had not covered the 70 meters to us yet. Okay, I thought. But if she wants to keep playing, I'll wet her down. I looked for the shower controls.

"Stop!" the trainer commanded. He was laughing. Bastard.

My LT was told to simulate her emergency. It certainly shook me up for a few minutes. And then I thought about what I could profitably take away.

Every Army activity is supposed to start with a risk assessment. The facilitating officer or NCO identifies potential risks, and then, measures to reduce those risks. If you are in a hot environment, dehydration may be identified as a risk. A control measure may be water points nearby, and the instruction to drink water during breaks.

While risk assessments may be an Army thing, they are useful for anyone. In my case, taking just a few extra minutes to point out where the emergency showers were, and to give basic instructions on operating them would have ensured that I was as ready as possible if my emergency had been genuine. For your work or play activities, reminding everyone present of potential hazards, and how to deal with them won't take long. And it could save a life, or someone's eyes. Maybe yours.