Bioenvironmental tests the limits of occupational health

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Holly Mansfield
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

When looking into a glass of water from any sink on Keesler Air Force Base, you can see a clear pool of refreshing H2O.

What you may not see is the bioengineer running tests to keep that water clean and drinkable.

The 81st Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Flight is dedicated to ensuring occupational and environmental safety standards are upheld to ensure the more than 14,000 Keesler personnel and their dependents stay healthy.

“The main part of our job is to perform occupational health assessments,” said Senior Airman Randi Cruz, 81st AMDS bioenvironmental engineering technician. “We go to different units on base, whether that’s in the hospital or at the flightline, and do assessments of what they do at work to determine if there is anything that could potentially be hazardous to them in the work center. From there we recommend controls to keep them away from any harm.”

Along with routine water screenings, the eight-man bioenvironmental flight performs everything from ventilation tests to respiratory fit tests.

“We do respiratory fit tests, ventilation surveys and environmental sampling like in the water,” said Senior Airman Devin Harris, 81st AMDS bioenvironmental engineering technician. “We go out to different jobs around base to conduct noise tests and also monitor the heat index since it gets really hot in Biloxi, especially during the summer months.”

Although bioenvironmental is part of the 81st Medical Group they aren’t your typical medical squadron. The flight uses preventative medicine to monitor work environments to prevent potential medical emergencies.

“I know that most of the medical group works on treating people who are sick and that’s really important, but I think preventative medicine is also just as important,” said Harris. “What we do helps those working on base from getting sick or injured so our job is really important to the well-being of Keesler Airmen.”

While the flight does focus on preventative medicine, they also play a vital role during biohazardous material emergencies. Each bioenvironmental Airman is trained to respond to hazardous material accidents and to help in assessing the scene while also treating potentially harmful threats.

“In a response situation we work in conjunction with emergency management and other first responders to assess the situation,” said Cruz. “I, thankfully, have never had to respond to a real life biohazard incident but if we respond during a base exercise and they say there was some kind of explosion, we would help assess what kind of hazards there are like airborne chemicals, radiation or other kinds of threats.”

From the gas mask fit testing room to being on-scene at a biohazard accident in a HAZMAT suit, the bioenvironmental flight Airmen lead the way to complete the mission regardless of rank.The flight utilizes the mission of the Air Education and Training Command to not only ensure each Airman is proficient at their job, but to also produce strong leaders for the Air Force.  

“On top of my normal day-to-day tasks I am also in charge of the respiratory protection program which covers roughly 600 people in 20 different work centers between the 81st MDG and the flightline,” said Cruz. “When they first gave me control of this program it was very nerve-racking because I felt like I was still learning and then thrown into this position where I have to manage things outside of my work center. Now that I’ve been doing this for a couple of years I feel very confident in my abilities to help others take care of their work centers.”

“Our job is to make sure people are safe while they are working so if bioenvironmental wasn’t part of the Air Force, people could be exposed to anything from chemicals to radiation and hazardous noise,” said Cruz. “We ensure people are keeping up with the safety standards so they stay safe. What we do here is vital everywhere you go in the Air Force.”