Airmen train for real emergencies during mock altitude chamber exercise

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Hannah Bean
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
The 14th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron’s Aerospace and Operational Physiology Flight conducted an expanded exercise with emergency agencies and volunteer Airmen Sept. 3 on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.

Just as AOP trains pilots on the different risks associated with flying, they must also train themselves through emergency exercises on the potential risks they could encounter during a training session.

“We operate in a training environment and the reality is that there are a lot of risks involved, real risks with exposure to altitude and real reactions of our students in a low pressure environment,” said Tech. Sgt. Stacey Klein, 14th OMRS AOP section chief. “It’s vital to the safety of our students that we practice outside of their training environment to ensure that we’re operating at the highest levels of proficiency and that our Airmen are comfortable in responding to those emergencies.”

AOP is responsible for teaching pilots and aircrews the essential skills they need to handle in-flight emergencies. AOP Airmen focus on providing the highest quality training on proper pre- and post-flight preparation to ensure the health and safety of the students. Training can include aircraft pressurization, night vision, emergency first aid, oxygen equipment, physiological effects of altitude and emergency escape from aircraft.

To give a more accurate representation of the exercise inside the Hyperbaric Chamber Room, more commonly known as the Altitude Chamber Room, volunteers were asked to participate as students inside the chamber, providing a level of unpredictability for the AOP Airmen to critically think rather than predicting what they should do.

“We understand that complacency isn’t an option when we’re in the chamber because we could miss something that’s crucial to a student getting back on oxygen,” Klein said. “We notice the little ticks and the little nervous things that individuals do. It’s important we are aware of the physiological changes occurring, we’re able to identify what those weaknesses or reactions are, and have the Airmen practice it over and over again to be proficient and comfortable in responding to those reactions.”

The AOP Airmen involved in the simulation were tasked with different position and didn’t know what emergency would occur. In addition, a handful of the participants acting as the flight were tasked with performing chamber reactions throughout the simulation.

The simulation began with a change in altitude adjustment. At different intervals participants were given signals to begin their chamber reactions, to include intense ear pain and abdominal pain.

As the simulation continued, a simulated fire began and kicked in emergency evacuations for all Airmen inside the building. Due to the emergency, the Airmen inside the chamber were immediately brought back to ground altitude level to allow for proper evacuation.

Both the 14th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department and 14th OMRS flight surgeon were contacted in response to the evacuation. After the firefighters responded, those that performed chamber reactions were evaluated by the flight surgeon and given an explanation of what procedures would be taken for those afflicted by the Hyperbaric Chamber Room.

“The importance lies in not only knowing that emergencies can happen but being able to respond to it in our training environment,” said Airman 1st Class Troy Powell, 14th OMRS AOP flight technician. “Being able to identify weaknesses helps us create more effective training to our students and can help prevent the same issues from happening during real-world training.”

By utilizing these training opportunities, AOP is able to improve their procedures, review any further training needed, and understand the importance of never becoming complacent in their job. Being a lethal and ready force is more than just training over and over again. The training allows for opportunities to improve and overcome obstacles before they become risks or hazards.