BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE — Few things are more important than reliable medical equipment. If equipment is unavailable, not calibrated correctly or malfunctions, it could place someone's life in jeopardy, which is why the 2nd Medical Operations Support Squadron Biomedical Equipment Technicians here work behind the scenes to ensure Barksdale's medical equipment stays in proper working order.
"It's our job to ensure that all medical equipment on base is safe to use, serviceable and properly configured," said Tech. Sgt. Orlando Ortega, BMET flight chief. "We fix broken stuff. We're maintainers, but our job is to fix everything you would find in a hospital."
Ortega, who's been a medical maintainer for 12 years, said BMET plays an integral role in keeping the hospital running successfully.
"It's our responsibility to make sure the equipment works," he said. "When we do our job correctly it allows the rest of the hospital staff to focus only on helping patients."
BMET frequently bails the dental squadron out with emergency issues fixing everythin from small fixes to dental chairs, Tech. Sgt. Rosalynn Davis, 2nd Dental Squadron, Logistics NCO in charge, said.
"We wouldn't be able to function if we did not have the BMET in our facility - they are definitely critical," she said. "As crucial as they are to is, I am certain they are just as crucial to other units in the medical group. We would have to wait longer to get our equipment fixed which could cause mission stoppage. They are jacks of all trades."
However, Ortega said it's not just blood pressure cuffs and thermometers that his shop repairs on a daily basis. They fix everything from dental chairs to x-ray machines, optical equipment and coffee pots.
"We're not required to use technical orders like the maintainers on the flightline," he said. "We're not working on just one kind of equipment, everything we fix has several different variations, so what works for one won't work for the other. We have to rely heavily on our training and general understanding of electronic principles for our job."
In addition to technical training, medical maintainers rely greatly on teamwork to get their mission accomplished.
"We work closely with a lot of other organizations in the hospital," Ortega said. "We have all sorts of test equipment that we use to calibrate everything in the hospital, so we use PMEL to calibrate our calibration equipment. We also work closely with the medical logistics flight on equipment procurement."
However, being a part of the medical maintenance team does come with its fair share of work. Barksdale's BMET Flight is comprised of only two Airmen working to get the job done.
With an average of three to four pieces of equipment a day and more than 30 unscheduled "emergency" fixes per month, the BMET Airmen put in long hours to keep the hospital running like a well-oiled machine.
"As with any other organization on base, it's hard to do more with less, but we usually offset the work load with longer hours," Ortega said. "It's tough, but it's rewarding when you see the direct impact you have on the mission."
He recalls the moment he realized the role BMET plays in the bigger picture.
"We procured and maintain a corneal topographer which is used by the eye clinic to aid in making extended wear contact lenses. This is important for our flyers for obvious reasons and this is a purchase that I helped make. The research that I did is going to help the flying program. That's definitely my favorite part of this job."
Though heavily involved in both the 2nd Medical Group and base mission, to many, the BMET flight is the hospital's best kept secret.
"It's shocking to me that most people don't even know we exist," Ortega said. "That's good because it means we're doing our job. We know we're doing our job when people come into the hospital and aren't worried about the equipment being used or if it's working right or going to malfunction."
In order to provide such a high quality of work, BMET Airmen attend a one-year technical school and constant on-the-job training, as well as continuously attending upgrade training to keep up with technology changes and industry standards.
As hospital staff, BMET Airmen are also medics and therefore required to stay current on their medical training.
"Everyone who works in the hospital is a medic," Ortega said. "We're not surgeons or anything but we're required to have at least a general medical background. I think that's one of the most visible differences between us and maintainers who work on the flightline. In a mass casualty situation, we would be expected to help out. We can't just say 'we're maintenance, that's not our job.'"
Ortega said having a general medical knowledge base also helps the maintenance aspect of their job because sometimes they have to train users on how to use the equipment as well.
While it may seem like a lot to ask of the BMET Airmen, Ortega said having such a diverse knowledge base pays off when they're deployed.
"Deployed hospitals don't have facility managers so when there is a problem or if the air needs to be fixed or anything is broken, the staff is looking to us to try to fix it," he said. "We kind of transition into the hospital's civil engineers in deployed environments and that's kind of cool."
Though their primary mission is to fix medical equipment, the BMET flight prides themselves on being "jacks of all trades," -- a responsibility they don't take lightly.
"The government vehicles on base have a maintenance shop, the B-52s on the flightline have the aircraft maintenance squadron, and the 2 MDG has us," said Ortega.