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Face of Defense: Biomedical Maintainers Ensure Medical Success

By Senior Airman Terri Barriere, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq, Jan. 16, 2008 – The Air Force Theater Hospital here is the hub for military en-route patient care in Iraq, and the Tuskegee medics ensure proper preparation of patients prior to air evacuation from the theater of operations.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Staff Sgt. Orlando Ortega, a 332nd Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron biomedical equipment technician, holds a sterilizer's door in place as fellow equipment tech Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Cummings uses a wrench to remove a bolt. Biomedical equipment repair technicians perform repairs, scheduled maintenance, inspections and calibrations on all biomedical equipment at the Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad Air Base, Iraq. Photo by Senior Airman Terri Barriere, USAF

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

For the hospital to succeed in its mission of saving lives, airmen of 332nd Medical Support Squadron Biomedical Maintenance Flight work behind the scenes to keep the facility's equipment up and running.

"In a nutshell, we maintain all medical equipment and facilities, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Cummings, a 332nd MDSS biomedical equipment technician, deployed from Langley Air Force Base, Va.

When equipment is brought in for maintenance, it's prioritized according to mission impact, he said.

"If a defibrillator is broken, we've got to get that working right away," Cummings said. "If someone was to have a heart attack, they'd have to go get a defibrillator from another area, and that's precious time that could cost someone their life."

Cummings said the evolution of technology in contemporary medicine has increased the need for biomedical equipment technicians.

"Modern patient care revolves around not just the skill of the doctor, but technology as well," he said. "When the equipment is running correctly, it allows the doc to do their job to the best of their ability. And with the most accurate diagnostic equipment at the doc's disposal, the patients have a better chance at survival and recovery."

When things are running smoothly around the facility and nothing is broken, the technicians use the time to perform routine preventive maintenance on all the equipment.

"When we do our routine maintenance, we look for things that will help prolong the life of the equipment and keep it running as well as possible," Cummings said.

They also use the time to train medics on proper use of new equipment to prevent user error.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Mathew Kurian, a biomedical equipment technician deployed from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, said that even though the technicians work behind the scenes, the work they do is rewarding. "It's really nice when you see the equipment you work on used to save a patient's life," he said.

As with any mission operating in a remote location, luxuries afforded biomedical equipment technicians at their home stations aren't always available here, forcing the technicians to become more resourceful and diverse in skill knowledge, said Staff Sgt. Orlando Ortega, a biomedical equipment craftsman deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

"Stateside, we don't handle all the facility work orders, such as plumbing and electrical issues," he said. "Also, stateside, manufacturers can come in and do the work on their broken equipment. Here, everyone depends on us. If we can't fix it, it has to be sent to the company, which completely takes the unit out of service for several weeks.”

With technology constantly evolving, the technicians agree it's hard to know everything about every piece of equipment all the time.

"Equipment changes almost every day,” Ortega said. β€œIt's not realistic to think you can learn everything about every piece of equipment. Our technical school helps prepare us by giving us the foundation and framework -- the basics. We fill in the gaps as we go and sort of teach ourselves by using the literature and skills picked up along the way from co-workers."

biomedical equipment technicians consider themselves to be "Jacks of all trades."

"Plumbers work on pipes, carpenters work with wood, but we can work on everything in the hospital; we're not limited to one field," Cummings said. "When you work on medical equipment, you have to know how to fix everything -- and we do, because there's no telling what you're going to see."

(Air Force Senior Airman Terri Barriere serves with 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.)

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