Bioenvironmental Engineering Element: BEEs stand prepared to protect McChord from harmful substances

  • Published
  • By Tyler Hemstreet
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
In an era where trace amounts of an unknown powder can scare hundreds, and a small vial of a biological agent can potentially kill thousands, McChord's Bioenvironmental Engineering Element, also known as the "BEEs," plays a vital role in keeping Airmen safe.

That responsibility is something the BEEs work hard to accomplish each day, no matter the location or the situation.

"The career field as a whole is utilizing the same tools [and skills] at home it would use when it is deployed," said Capt. John Stubbs, a bioenvironmental engineer with the 62nd Medical Operations Squadron.

Armed with high-tech monitoring devices and a protective uniform unlike any other on base, BEEs are set to respond to a variety of situations.

The tools allow for the identification and testing of unknown substances encountered on base at any given time. The BEEs can identify thousands of unidentified substances down to the smallest of levels.

With these tools, and the support from their base agency partners, such as the 62nd Civil Engineer Squadron's Fire Department and Readiness Flight, the team is prepared for just about anything, Captain Stubbs said.

To give Airmen total protection from hazardous or toxic substances, the team has several different chemical protective suits they wear with full-face respirators or self-contained breathing apparatus.

Their expertise has been put to the test on several occasions on base, with the team responding to suspicious substance calls at places such as base housing and the base post office, which turned out to be false alarms, said Captain Stubbs.

"It's something you don't do every day," remarked Airman 1st Class Takuma Strain, a 62nd MDOS BEE. "But it's something you definitely want to be trained and prepared for to go out and do well."

But there are many other facets to the job.

"The bulk of our day-to-day job is occupational health and radiation safety," Captain Stubbs said. "Our number one job is the protection of human life."

That includes surveying shops that have hazards which might harm a worker, said Senior Airman Korrin Wagar, 62nd MDOS.

To determine the extent of those hazards, the bioenvironmental engineering crew monitors air, noise, radiation and many other hazards.

The element has rows of binders filled with reports for each industrial shop on base. The information contained in the reports is crucial to the occupational health of Airmen, said Airman Wagar.

These reports explain the hazards in the workplace and inform the workers what they need to do to protect themselves from those hazards.

This information is also used to decide if a worker needs specialized health exams and "lets the doctors know what those workers are exposed to on a daily basis," Airman Wagar said.

This team also serves the base in many other ways. BEE team members fit test and train Airmen on industrial respirators and gas masks. When the weather gets too hot or cold, they monitor the Wet Bulb Globe Thermometer Index and recommend work and rest cycles, as well as physical training regimens to prevent thermal stress.

Their protection even extends to sampling 11 different drinking water wells on base to make sure the water is safe to drink.

Through it all, Captain Stubbs said the team is constantly sending members to specialized training courses and conducting training exercises.

"In a perfect world, you never want to get called out," he said. But if that day comes, the bioenvironmental engineering team is ready.