HVAC Airmen winning on deployed frontier: one a/c unit at a time

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kentavist P. Brackin
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

No matter the job, each Airman provides a vital service – engaging issues on their own battlefront to ensure the mission goes as smoothly as possible, from the Soldiers who oversee the Patriot missile batteries to the services Airmen who ensure personnel have meals to eat and a place to sleep.

Airmen from the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron’s Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Unit have their own battle front as well – ensuring healthy and bearable conditions for more than 3,500 U.S. and coalition members stationed here.

“The services HVAC provides are vital to maintaining a healthy and respectable quality of life for our Airmen, Soldiers and coalition partners,” said Lt. Col. David, the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron commander. “Our HVAC Airmen take on a large responsibility by ensuring the devices that keep our personnel comfortable and communication equipment cool, are well-maintained and quickly repaired by providing around-the-clock service.”

There are nearly 4,000 air conditioning systems here and the HVACs section, numbering 31 Airmen, is responsible for maintaining all of them, including server and equipment rooms.

“Most of our work is 80 percent electrical so we’re almost considered electricians, but HVAC is about making sure people are comfortable,” said Master Sgt. Terrence Hughes, 380 ECES HVAC section NCO in charge. “We go out and touch everything that heats, cools, refrigerates, makes you comfortable, keeps your food cool and keeps the humidity down.”

In addition to ensuring a cool environment for personnel, HVAC technicians also have a hand in managing A/C for aircraft storage and tent facilities on the flightline.

The work orders range from setting up the standard A/C for newly constructed facilities to responding to issues with compressor systems used to stabilize high pressure suits used by U-2 Dragon Lady pilots.

HVAC currently responds to about 500 to 600 work orders a month, but that number is expected to increase to 900 during the heat of the summer. The rising temperatures also mean an increase in workload for the A/C systems and those that maintain them, according to the 15-year HVAC career field veteran.

“During the summer months there is a lot of hustling to keep up,” he said.

The HVAC unit is broken down into three shifts, allowing them to respond and perform maintenance request 24/7.

Currently, the section is performing deep cleanings on various air conditioning units to ensure their clean and clear of dust.

This process consists of taking units apart, pressure washing certain sections, wiping dust and grime from filters before putting it back together.

“It typically takes a team of two technicians about 30-45 minutes to perform a deep-clean on air conditioning units,” said Hughes. “If we have a day that not’s very busy with work orders we can do about 30 A/C units.”

As of March 1, the team has completed 65 percent of the deep-cleanings.

“It’s not a project, we’re going to complete during this rotation, but definitely something that will benefit the base.”

While not as thorough as a deep clean, the section also advises personnel to clean their air condition units every 1st and15th of the month to ensure they operate effectively.

Without the HVAC section, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing would face various threats to the mission and health of its personnel, ranging from overheating or damaged communication equipment to the potential growth of mold.

“We don’t come across mold that often,” said Hughes. “We come across a lot of stuff that people call mold, but is really just dust accumulation. It could be a different variation of mold and not black mold which is hazardous to your health.”

Mold has more than 100,000 varieties throughout the world and can grow on organic substances such as wood, clothes or dead animal products if there is water or moisture. While most molds are not dangerous, the most well-known and dangerous of them all is the toxigenic Stachybotrys, a greenish-black, slimy substance also known as black mold.

Symptoms of black mold include dermatitis, burning sensations in the nasal passage, headaches and fatigue.

According to the Bioenvironmental Engineering Section, there have been no confirmed black mold sightings during this rotation.

“For the most part it’s been rather quite around here,” they added

“Another one of the big things over here is moisture issues – we have very high humidity here,” said Hughes. “Mold needs moist, wet places to grow in. The best advice we can give personnel to prevent mold is to run your dehumidifier and leave it running all day so it can dry out all the moisture in the area.”

De-humidifiers pull humid air in, usually through the back of the device, to filter out moisture before releasing it from the front or top of the appliance. HVAC recommend personnel set their humidistat settings to between 50 and 30 percent.

Most working sections and facilities here utilize some type of de-humidifier in their work areas.

“We really don’t touch the dehumidifiers much, if they break personnel should take them to lodging and they’ll issue you a new one,” said Hughes. “However, customers can do maintenance as far cleaning the filters and emptying their tanks to ensure they keep running and extending their life.”

If personnel do spot what they believe to be the forming or starting of mold they should immediately report it.

“Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a residence. Since the susceptibility of individuals can vary greatly either because of the amount or type of mold, sampling and culturing are not reliable in determining your health risk,” states the Center for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm.

“The key is to address it early on before it becomes an issue,” adds the Bioenvironmental Engineering Section.

 (Due to safety and security concerns some last names were removed)