The gas mask fit test is an essential part of mission readiness and a U.S. Air Force requirement.
The 633rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight is in charge of providing the test at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
Through the use of engineering principles, the 633rd AMDS Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight helps reduce and solve occupational and environmental health risks and dangers caused by human activity.
“If there is a harmful chemical, noise, or a radiation source that they’re working with, then we would assess the hazard and see how much of it they’re exposed to and recommend controls to keep them safe,” said 2nd Lt. Joshua Benda, 633rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron bioenvironmental engineer. “We have 72 shops that we survey routinely, make sure all their training is up to date, all their personal protective equipment are adequate and none of their processes have changed.”
The 633rd AMDS also acts as a part of emergency response. In the case of an attack on base or a chemical spill, their main goal is to assess what the hazards are to include any chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear threats.
According to Benda, if this base was attacked by a massive chemical or biological weapon, people would be required to have their gas mask, but you need the one that’s right for you. Everyone should know what fit is right for them before a threat arises.
To increase readiness, the First Term Airman Course has implemented the test, enhancing mission readiness by making sure Airmen go through the process as soon as they arrive on station.
“At the time of big exercises, you sometimes get a large influx of people needing their gas mask fit test because maybe it wasn’t happening during in processing,” said Airman 1st Class Cameron Rice, 633rd AMDS bioenvironmental engineering technician. “This FTAC initiative really helps with that.”
According to Rice, some new Airman don’t really know who their unit deployment manager is, so they make sure the Airmen communicate with their supervisors to learn that. This way, if any of them were needed to deploy, they know the process and who to go to from early on in their career.
During the test, the subject is asked to continuously move their face in certain directions, thus testing the mask’s seal in different positions. In doing so, the proper gas mask size can be determined for that individual.
“Essentially what we’re looking at when it comes to a gas mask fit test is the quantitative number of particulates inside versus outside of the mask,” said Staff Sgt. Ionnis Gousis, 633rd AMDS bioenvironmental engineering craftsman NCO in charge of the occupational health element. “So we have one tube that’s collecting the ambient air and typically what we’ll do is, alongside the PortaCount, we’ll set up a particle generator with salt solution and water.”
According to Gousis, this creates a simulated atmosphere that will tell them if anything is getting inside of the mask. The machine is actually pulling air from the inside of the mask and measuring it against the air outside of the mask. This measures the effectiveness of the mask in case of a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attack.
In the war on terror in the early 2000s, there were uncertainties when it came to the possibilities of chemical weapons being used against deployed troops.
“Realistically, it was something to be prepared for and having the troops ready to go in case something like that happened,” Gousis said. “They didn’t know what they were going into. It was kind of an unknown, so with CBRN attacks it’s about readiness against the unknown. With the rising threats from other countries it’s important to have that readiness mindset, and that’s exactly where the gas mask fit test comes in.”
According to Benda, gas masks are one of those things you don’t realize you need until you do.
“There’s a reason why the Air Force has us doing this, there’s a reason why they use man power to do it, so I believe [gas masks] are still 100 percent relevant,” Benda said. “If you don’t have it, that’s a massive possibility of casualty loss and losing your assets.”