The Iceman cometh – safety loading measures

The Iceman cometh – safety loading measures – Brief Article

Robin J. Bunce

“Cold as Ice.” Great song from the 1970s. Ice-cold lemonade. Great to drink on a hot summer day Ice-cold beer with names like light-ice, ice-brewed, and cold-filtered. Sounds refreshing as a cool mountain stream. References to things ice cold usually have a positive effect, but for weapons loaders, nothing strikes more fear into the heart than the thought of loading weapons in below freezing temperatures. There are two main reasons for this: the effects of the cold on the human body and the increased potential for static electricity build-up.

A loading operation can be difficult in its own right. Adding cold weather to the mix just makes it more so. In low temperatures, fingers and toes don’t like to work as advertised. This can cause all sorts of problems. Let’s take the story of “Joe Loader” during an exercise in extreme cold conditions.

The month is January and the place is Europe, which is experiencing the coldest winter on record. Joe Loader is the number two person on a three-person F-15 Eagle load crew. The base is in Military Operational Protective Posture 4 or (MOPP 4) and he is wearing all items of the chemical ensemble. The temperature is right at zero degrees and the dew is freezing before it hits the ground. Joe is wearing a pair of pilot gloves with a pair of rubber chemical gloves over them. (Last time I checked, rubber was not a good cold insulator.) The load crew prepares the aircraft for takeoff and the sortie is on its way.

About an hour later, word comes down advising the load crew that the Eagle has landed. Joe gets his tools together and prepares himself for the next load. As he steps out of the hardened aircraft shelter, he is greeted by a fierce freezing wind in his face. After what seems to be 30 minutes of standing in the cold, although less than a minute has elapsed, Joe cannot feel his fingers. He tries to put his gloved hands under his armpits to heat them up just enough to try to prepare the aircraft for loading. It does not help. Joe has no feeling in his fingers and 1oading has become an operational risk.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t want to let his crew down by giving in to the elements. The result: Cold — 1, Airman — 0. The hospital is called out and Joe is diagnosed with frostbite.

This same scene is played out at cold weather bases throughout the Air Force. Loading in the cold takes some physical and mental preparations. As a person trained to deal with explosives, doing your job correctly during the cold weather months becomes even more important. Your body will move slower, and it will take more time to do a good job, but time will not always be on your side. Because of the cold, you might try to cut corners that could end up cutting you.

Performing simple tasks in the extreme cold is not the only problem loaders face. Cold brings with it a new twist to the loading arena: static electricity! How many times during the winter months have you walked over to open a door and gotten zapped by an electrical shock? This happens because you put on more clothes when it’s cold, thereby increasing the amount of static-producing material (i.e., sweaters, sleep shirts). If you are not careful, you could be mistaken for the energizer bunny.

Air Force Manual 91-201 has something to say about static electricity and explosives. It states that people who handle or install unpackaged, electrically initiated, explosives devices and ammunition, must avoid wearing clothing made of material that has high static-producing qualities. One thing you can do is to ensure you ground yourself as often as possible to discharge any sparks that could cause an explosion. On the same exercise day that Joe Loader got frostbite, Jane Loader, got to experience firsthand the importance of grounding.

As a load crewmember during a downloading operation, Jane was taking the impulse carts out of the launcher in order to get the bird ready for the next flight. Jane ran out of room in her cart can, but she was in a hurry so she placed two of the carts in her field jacket pocket. She continued to load and unload aircraft throughout the day, forgetting about the carts in her pocket. After about 4 or 5 hours, the jacket built up enough static for the carts to electrically initiate. They burnt a hole in the jacket and singed Jane’s leg. But this is fairly minor compared to what could have happened. If Jane had reached into her pocket for the carts without remembering to ground herself, she could have lost some fingers!

It is very important to ensure you take the appropriate precautions during the winter months. Preparation is key and knowing your limits can be helpful. Loading in the cold can be frustrating, but it is necessary for the mission. Wear the proper protection, take your time, and ground yourself often. If you remember these three things when the mercury drops, you’ll have a better chance of getting to go home, relax, and have a COLD one there.

COPYRIGHT 2002 U.S. Department of the Air Force

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group