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Detect, prevent, protect- bioenvironmental engineers

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Most Airmen do not pause before entering a building or drinking from a water fountain to wonder if the air they are breathing or the water they are drinking is safe, and a select group of Airmen makes sure they never have to.

The 28th Medical Operations Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Office ensures that base facilities' air and water quality is held to the highest standard to guarantee that team Ellsworth stays fit to fight.

"We keep the base personnel healthy and safe," said Staff Sgt. Aaron Waite, 28th MDOS bioenvironmental engineering technician. "We need every Airman we have and as long as we're doing our job and keeping them healthy we'll be good to go."

Although bioenvironmental engineering Airmen receive extensive training at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine located on Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, they must continue their education to ensure any new policies are implemented.

"We go on a lot of temporary duty assignments to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) seminars and classes manufacturers put on for the new equipment we use," Waite said. "That way we always know the new regulations and how to use our equipment properly."

Base facilities are assessed on a regular basis depending on what hazard category they are placed in. Category One consists of high-risk industrial shops that use hazardous materials and are assessed every 12 months, Category Two is made up of work centers that are moderately hazardous with an assessment every 24 months, and Category Three consists of administrative offices and are assessed as needed.

"I love that I get to go see how other career fields in the Air Force operate," said Senior Airmen Lauren Allen, 28th MDOS bioenvironmental engineering technician. "It really lets me see the big picture of the Air Force."

The bioenvironmental engineering office operates under the guidance of OSHA but in some cases administers more strict guidelines based on Air Force Instruction 48-145, "Occupational and Environmental Health Program."

"In simpler terms, we're like the OSHA of the Air Force," Waite said.

The shop focuses on three main tiers - occupational health, industrial hygiene and readiness, helping protect all of the workers on Ellsworth from hazards they may not even think about. The technicians use multi-million dollar equipment to test noise levels, water and air quality, ventilation and chemicals.

"Basically, we just protect everyone," Waite said. "There are hazards that we're trained to spot that people wouldn't consider to be a threat."

Bioenvironmental Engineering Airmen also make recommendations for personal protection equipment, and fetal protection informs pregnant women about dangers in the workplace.

This program allows the Bioenvironmental Engineering Office to determine if a female who becomes pregnant is in a work environment that could cause harm to herself or her fetus.

"We make recommendations to supervisors to make sure a female and her fetus are safe," Waite said.

The shop also maintains the base's readiness by providing all fire protection Airmen, as well as other Airmen on a case-by case-basis, with in-depth documentation to assure they are issued properly operating respirators and gas masks for use in firefighting and certain deployed locations.

"If we didn't exist, Airmen would get hurt and become sick and ultimately not get the mission done," Allen said.