Bioenvironmental Engineering Airmen are ‘jack of all trades’

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Bioenvironmental Engineering Airmen help the wing’s mission by inspecting occupational and environmental conditions to ensure Airmen have a safe working environment.

The unit’s mission is to provide reliable health risk expertise to optimize human performance and prevent adverse health effects of Airmen on base.

“We’re a jack of all trades,” said Maj. Kenneth Kirk, 56th Occupational Medicine Readiness Squadron bioenvironmental engineering flight commander. “There’s a whole host of things we do.”

He explained that the bioenvironmental Airmen must have a working knowledge of variety of health and safety-related programs to aid in their goal of ensuring the occupational and environmental health of Luke personnel and residents.

“The environmental element focuses on indoor air quality and water,” said Kirk. “We perform water compliance tests to make sure the drinking water is safe, and if anything needs to be corrected we work with Civil Engineer (CE) to make sure any contaminated water coming into the system is flushed properly.”

Another aspect of their job is emergency response. Airmen from the flight are trained as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense (CBRN) and hazardous materials (HAZMAT) responders.

“We respond to aircraft crashes, airborne and noise hazards,” said Kirk. “It’s the full spectrum response aspect.”

The emergency responders work with the Luke Fire Department, CE emergency management and explosive ordnance disposal personnel during an emergency.

“We’re in the Medical Group but we’re very versatile,” said Master Sgt. Michael Woodburn, 56th OMRS bioenvironmental engineer flight chief. “We’re behind the scenes making it happen.”

Woodburn explained OMRS visits different units on base to ensure Airmen are wearing the proper gear while working around hazardous materials. 

“We go to Combat Arms Training and Maintenance (CATM) to make sure the air they’re breathing is filtered properly because the debris kicked from the weapons clouds the air,” said Woodburn. “At the same time, you have all those weapons inside a building and that’s loud. We want to make sure they’re wearing the right hearing protection and they’re wearing it correctly.”

Safety in a training environment is one aspect, but the flight helps prepare Airmen for deployments as well. Bioenvironmental technicians perform gas mask fit tests for individuals who are deploying. During the test, individuals perform various movements while wearing the gas mask to test how well it fits to their face.  

Along with performing gas mask fit tests, the unit constantly monitors air quality, water purity, ventilation systems and different chemicals Airmen are exposed to while working.

The unit trains weekly to maintain currency on multiple tasks and equipment types to perform their job at the best capacity. 

“You’re very good at what you’re doing at the time, but you may forget the other things because we do so much,” said Kirk. “It’s really hard to master everything, but training broadens their careers.”

The continuous pursuit of mastery is what enables bioenvironmental personnel to maintain the safety of medical technicians, pilots, maintainers, civilians, veterans, families and everybody on Luke by tracking and maintaining data in each work environment. They contribute to Luke’s mission of training the world’s greatest fighter pilots and combat ready Airmen through protecting military assets and preparing equipment for deploying Airmen.

“We try to solve any sort of human performance aspect that affects the person’s ability to do their job and the mission,” said Kirk. “We’re very much in the preventative medicine aspect. We try to prevent anything from harming the person and make sure the same quality of life you have now is the same quality of life you have when you’re retired.”