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Seabees Supporting Air Operations

June 28, 2021 | By Petty Officer 2nd Class Brianna Green, NAVFAC EURAFCENTineering Systems Command HQ
The logistical “Hub of the Med”, NAS Sigonella is a strategic location in the center of the Mediterranean. As a NATO hub, the base has an active role in supporting joint and combined operations in the European theater. It is the shortest logistics route from continental U.S. to Central Asia and the Indian Ocean. It is the second largest security command, only behind Naval Support Activity Bahrain. Housing 30 Commands including the air station’s Operations Department, the C-26 transport aircraft, that deploy with Naval Reserve C-9, C-40 and C-130 aircraft.

One of the most critical details in the base’s air operation, is the maintenance of the airfield’s fire truck.

“Aircraft emergencies and mishaps don't announce themselves days in advance,” said William Casey, NAS Sigonella Fire Chief. “Ironically, one of the worst events which could occur while attempting to mitigate an emergency is for a vehicle to breakdown or not operate as designed. We rely on these vehicles as a mission critical platform to deliver firefighters and extinguishing agents to emergencies.”

The most important tool to combating fires is maintained by two Seabees in the Public Works Department Sigonella. Two Construction Mechanics were certified as an Emergency Vehicle Technician in Maintenance, Inspection and Testing of Fire Apparatus and Design and Performance Standards of Fire Apparatus.

“We attended a class in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to get a better feel for all of our Oshkosh equipment.” said Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Corey Mason, of Hermiston, Oregon, the transportation floor supervisor aboard PWD Sigonella. “After that we studied for a couple of months.”

However, the tests are not easy, said Construction Mechanic 2nd Class Codi Clippertonallen, of Albord, Texas, work center supervisor aboard PWD Sigonella. There are about 120 questions with scenarios of two mechanics diagnosing an issue, and you have to select the best answer.

Luckily Oshkosh trucks are used in Seabee battalions, so their mechanical makeup is similar, but there are unique challenges working with fire trucks.

“Any bigger equipment is kinda the same, but the second portion is the firefighting portion,” said Clippertonallen. “Might as well get the UTs (Utilitiesman) to come over and fix it because it’s just plumbing, pressure and valves.”

Although it sounds simple, it gets complicated when checking valves and maintaining pressure for the hoses to work, said Mason. Every vehicle has an engine, but add ladders and plumbing and that’s an entirely different trouble shooting process.

Even though the work is challenging, these fire trucks are a safety requirement for the airfield to operate.

“This past Easter weekend, one of the trucks wasn’t shifting in the proper RPMs (revolutions per minute) when they tried to pump, so there was no pressure when they tried to pump water,” said Mason. “We came in and diagnosed for seven or so hours trying to figure it out. We were pulling stuff apart, looking at wire diagrams and found out it was just two little resistors.”

Like most resourceful Seabees, they used the resistors from another truck and swapped them out to get the fire truck fully operational.

“Our parts were coming from the states, so we had a large back order with COVID-19 then the power outage in Texas,” said Clippertonallen. “It was one thing after another, and we couldn’t get anyone certified out here, so it was left to us to get certified.”

Still, the two mechanics rely on the industry expertise from the school house at Oshkosh Defense.

“All the instructors do is work on the fires trucks, and I talk to them when I have issues that I don’t know what’s going on,” said Clippertonallen. “They’re geniuses. They go to the factory and watch it get put together. If I tell them a little problem nine out of 10 times they can help figure it out.”

All in all, the NAS Sigonella is considered a Category Four Airfield, which means it can support both small and large airframes, said Williams. They must have three Airfield Rescue Firefighting vehicles capable of supplying 7,000 gallons of water.

“We're extremely proud of our Seabee mechanics,” said Casey. “They put in extremely long hours under incredible pressure to keep a mission critical vehicle fleet in service. We enjoy working with them and partnering in maintaining the fire & emergency services vehicle fleet.”