HVAC: Keeping Ellsworth between hot and cold

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Thomas Karol
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Extreme temperatures are common at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, putting machinery to the test. The 28th Civil Engineer Squadron works hard to provide cool air during the summer months and warm air during the winter months so critical areas on base can effectively function.

This means that the machines performing these tasks need maintenance fairly often. The people who keep it running come from the 28th CES heating, ventilation and air conditioning shop. The shop maintains a variety of HVAC systems all around Ellsworth so Airmen can continue the mission unhindered.

“Our job is to manage all of the HVAC equipment on base,” said Tech. Sgt. Dustin Smith, the 28th CES HVAC noncommissioned officer in charge. “We maintain, inspect, repair and replace heating, ventilation and air conditioning and refrigeration equipment and support critical missions across the installation.”

Smith stated that they are able to cool and heat other work centers appropriately so fellow Airmen can focus on their duties rather than worry if their equipment is going to function or not.

“We also support critical equipment such as server rooms or flight simulators by providing the proper amount of cooling so they don’t overheat and shutdown,” Smith said. “We support unique environments such as the precision measurement equipment laboratory which requires strict tolerances when it comes to the temperature and humidity levels within the lab.”

Smith explained that HVAC isn’t just installing two or three boilers every month, it could be renovating an air conditioning unit in the PRIDE Hangar or changing a radiator panel near an installation entry point. It all starts with a plan.
“Our shop is divided up into three zones comprised of civilian and military,” Smith said. “We start the shift by checking the stand-by board for any emergency calls that might have come in overnight. After that, we prioritize our work for the day starting with the jobs of highest importance. Each zone identifies their work for the day, collects required tools and equipment and goes to the job sight. At the end of the day we, update our electronic database to account for the work that has been completed.”

The HVAC team uses a wide variety of tools such as vacuum pumps, which allow them to remove moisture and recovery machines, which helps pump refrigerant chemicals out of a system. They also use oxy-acetylene torch kits, pipe cutters and digital multimeters, which allow them to troubleshoot systems by reading the voltage, current, and resistance in equipment.

The HVAC shop spends a large amount of their time maintaining equipment on base, ensuring that the pre-existing equipment is capable of providing the base facilities with the proper amenities.
“We perform a lot of preventative maintenance around base,” Pearce noted. “We do everything from changing filters to replacing belts on the motors that power fans. Keeping the base’s HVAC equipment going is a big part of what we do.”

Ellsworth is a northern tier base, which means extreme low temperatures are common. But, in the summer, the temperature can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. These extreme temperatures require specialized equipment and training.

“In the winter we use our heavy winter gear,” Smith said. “We also use ark flash gear which protects us from fire hazards which can become a bigger concern during the summer months and we get training on how to use it properly. We have to use equipment that has a higher rating and is better than standard because of the conditions here. On top of that, we treat the water system pipes with ethylene glycol, which prevent them from freezing and bursting in the winter.”

Smith said that he enjoys this job because of the versatility and the skills he learned in the field. Pearce and Smith both plan on working in the HVAC field for the rest of their Air Force helping their fellow Airmen stay warm in the winter and cool during the summer.