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Medical equipment maintainers support warrior care

Staff Sgt. Paul Kerkman checks to make sure proper calibration is exhibited on an x-ray monitor  Aug. 1, 2014, at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Providers rely heavily on biomedical equipment technicians to service equipment to ensure 100 percent patient care. Kerkman is the 35th Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of medical maintenance. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jose L. Hernandez-Domitilo)

Staff Sgt. Paul Kerkman checks to make sure proper calibration is exhibited on an x-ray monitor Aug. 1, 2014, at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Providers rely heavily on biomedical equipment technicians to service equipment to ensure 100 percent patient care. Kerkman is the 35th Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of medical maintenance. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jose L. Hernandez-Domitilo)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- When caring for patients, doctors at Misawa Air Base's 35th Medical Group use the latest in biomedical equipment to assist in diagnosing or providing treatment.

Whether it is medical imaging equipment, defibrillators, surgical or clinical laboratory machinery, the pieces of equipment are likely to require corrective maintenance at some point.

When these machines go down, a team of experts take action to get the technology back up and running.

The medical maintenance team composed of biomedical equipment technicians, or BMETs, are the group of experts to call in order to troubleshoot and repair malfunctioning machinery.

"We must have equipment up and running to provide care to patients," said Staff Sgt. Paul Kerkman, the 35th Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of medical maintenance.

As highly skilled maintenance technicians, Misawa's BMETs are entrusted to ensure an estimated 2,000 pieces of medical equipment at Misawa AB are in working condition to help serve patients' medical and veterinary care, as well as Defense Department dependent schools.

Servicing equipment with a total value of more than $14 million, the team has their daily work cut out for them as they average completion of approximately 300 work orders each month. Work includes regular maintenance of the public access defibrillators located throughout the 35th Fighter Wing.

"Preventative maintenance is similar to the flightline, it extends lifespan of the equipment and ensures it is available to providers for patient treatment." said Staff Sgt. Aaron Becker, the 35th MDSS NCO in charge of scheduled maintenance.

While most of the work is preventative maintenance, approximately one-third of them are unscheduled work orders on equipment that unexpectedly malfunctions or requires upgrades.

The team is committed to making sure work orders are serviced on a priority basis order because it often involves equipment that prevents healthcare providers from fulfilling their job.

"If we don't fix equipment, then providers are cancelling appointments, or surgeries at times," said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Johnson, the 35th MDSS NCO in charge of facility management. "Our job is very critical and in turn very stressful, but we know if we do our job right, then there is nothing to worry about."

Being the technical experts in medical equipment repair also means they need to be ready to respond on site at any given moment.

"We are always on call," Johnson said.

Even during a surgical procedure, technicians need to be able to emergency respond and come to straighten things out. BMETs may be called upon to troubleshoot equipment while patients are within the surgical field or awaiting treatment.

"The buck stops with us," Johnson stated.

If there was ever to be a medical mishap involving any piece of medical equipment, any previous maintenance would be under intense scrutiny. Thus there are no cutting corners in fixing life-saving equipment and BMETs are entrusted with dealing with essential technologies. Annual quality assurance inspections conducted by Pacific Air Forces Medical Equipment Repair Center personnel out of Yokota Air Base, Japan, audit equipment and programs to ensure proper calibration and functionality.

Even though BMETs are in the background, they affect every patient that comes through the 35th MDG because every piece of equipment a provider uses, the BMETs have evaluated or serviced it prior to issue to the work center.

In addition to working on the mechanical aspects of equipment, BMETs are also trained on plumbing, electricity and even computer systems administration. One unique aspect of their job's requirement is being knowledgeable on certain facets of anatomy and physiology.

When troubleshooting a piece of equipment, communication with the doctor or operator who is utilizing that machine is key to figuring out what might need to be corrected.

"This is what sets us apart from other maintenance career fields," Johnson said. "When it comes down to diagnosing and troubleshooting a problem or teaching the clinical application of a medical device to a doctor, it takes the knowledge of anatomy and physiology in knowing what it is going to take to get the equipment up and running."

One technician who has seen the ins and outs of BMET at Misawa is Junji Maruya, a Japanese civilian and 35th MDSS BMET, who has worked on base for 27 years. Maruya is a unique asset available to the 35th MDG. He is the only Japanese national BMET working within the Air Force.

Having been here since the days when the 35 MDG was operating from what is now the collocated club, he has seen the technology expand and advance.

"My favorite part of this job has been working with all kinds of equipment," Maruya said. "Every day is different."

Though now assisting as a liaison for high priority item repair from local contractors among other things, he knows they'll always get the job done or at least find the right person to assist in doing so.

"If you don't see us in the work center then that's a good thing," said Master Sgt. Robert McNeill, the 35th MDSS NCO in charge of clinical engineering. "That means everything is operational."

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