Deployed leaders take ‘vest-ed’ interest in being cool
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Capt. James Ross (left) and Lt. Col. Tom Sadlo read a thermometer before testing a cool vest here. The two officers are part of a team that conducted the initial testing on the vest. Captain Ross is a bioenvironmental engineer with the 447th Air Expeditionary Group, and Colonel Sadlo is the 447th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron commander. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Scott Wagers)
by Tech. Sgt. Jason Tudor
Air Force Print News
7/28/2005 - BAGHDAD, Iraq (AFPN) -- The first test was in an outhouse.
Saddled in the middle of Baghdad -- where temperatures are reaching at least 120 degrees -- that outhouse had all the qualities Capt. James Ross needed to test his idea to cool off flightline logistics workers from the stifling heat.
His idea -- a “cool vest.” The captain, a bioenvironmental officer with the 477th Air Expeditionary Group here, is hoping to add something to help Airmen battle 150-plus degree temperatures as they work behind running aircraft engines.
“The situation there is too hot, and it hurts them,” he said. “We haven’t been able to measure the actual temperatures because it maxes out our thermometer, which only goes up to 150 degrees.”
The idea came when workers told Lt. Col. Tom Sadlo, 477th Expeditionary Logistics Squadron commander, they were experiencing problems during “engines-running on/off-loads.”
“EROs are an essential part of working on a flightline, especially one in a combat zone. They reduce the amount of time the aircrew and aircraft are sitting on the ground,” Colonel Sadlo said.
He said EROs can vary in time, exposing workers to more and more heat, depending on the amount of cargo and passengers they are removing or loading onto an aircraft.
Colonel Sadlo said when he worked an ERO with his Airmen, he felt like his “skin was on fire.”
He wanted to find a solution to a potentially life-threatening issue, so he contacted the expeditionary medical squadron. The phone call started the research.
“This is all about safety,” he said.
Prolonged exposure to the furious heat causes the human body problems, according to Centers for Disease Control officials. Heat stroke -- when a body cannot control its own temperature -- is the most serious byproduct. The body's temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat, and it is unable to cool down. A victim could die or be permanently disabled, according to a CDC fact sheet.
“The human body just doesn’t work well if there’s a lot of heat stress. Initially, the cognitive abilities drop, as well as physical abilities,” Captain Ross said. “Facing that much heat just hurts and may cause the Airmen to have an involuntary reaction like jerking or pulling away from heavy equipment. That could result in a damaged aircraft, or, worse, a casualty.”
This is not a new problem, Captain Ross said.
“In the past, people just sucked it up and kept working,” he said. “But the logistics squadron commander was told by his troops it was a problem. That’s when he contacted me and we started working together to solve the problem.”
Captain Ross said after some discussion, the idea of trying the cool vest popped up. A cool vest is worn by race car drivers, aircrews, cops, orchard field workers and others. One company’s model costs about $130, weighs 11 ounces dry and about 32 ounces when activated. It usually activates in about five minutes.
The vest Captain Ross tried, which weighs 4.8 pounds, had a set of bladders placed in different spots within it. The bladders got cool at 62 degrees, took 20 minutes to freeze in ice water and are reusable as long as the bladder is unbroken, Captain Ross said. Also, the weight of the vest does not change, he said.
That 62 degrees is important, Captain Ross said.
“It’s a temperature that’s still comfortable when close to the skin,” he said.
Materials for the vest are sometimes called “phase-change materials” and, aside from cooling people, the materials are used in the solar energy industry, the captain said.
Captain Ross said he wanted to ensure workers had a safe product. His first test was to personally experience the conditions the Airmen labored under. He, Staff Sgt. Troy Poole, a bioenvironmental technician, and Colonel Sadlo conducted tests on two kinds of vests, both using special cooling solutions. In one test, they added the wear of the vests with Nomex face masks.
“First, we went and stood next to the guys doing the job so we could understand the problems they face,” the captain said. “Then we started working out solutions.”
Then, the test in the outhouse.
“If you’ve been stationed here any amount of time, you know that’s probably the hottest place you can go,” he said.
He put the vest on and then wrapped himself with “as much warm clothing as I could find, and then I went in,” Captain Ross said. “I sat in there for about 20 minutes.”
The captain and Colonel Sadlo then tested the gear -- including a Nomex face mask and gloves -- during an ERO.
“There’s a huge difference between having the vest on and not having it on. The Nomex hood really protected my face and ears,” the colonel said.
After all the tests, Captain Ross made a recommendation that workers should wear the gloves, mask and the vest. Colonel Sadlo is now discussing how to implement wearing the equipment with aerial port leaders.
“We’re going to sit down and make sure these are the right vests to buy,” the colonel said. “I’ve worn the vest, but the people who matter haven’t. A few more tests and then we’ll establish how and when to wear this personal protective equipment.”
Whether the vest test team takes the cool idea from the outhouse to being a household name on the flightline remains to be seen.
“It’s a good investment, especially in Baghdad,” Captain Ross said. “The vests are affordable, and if it allows them to do just an extra engines-running offload, it will pay for itself.” (Tech. Sgt. Angeline Pianga contributed to this article.)