BMETs deliver lifeline to hospital logistics

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jessica Lockoski
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Whether it's the beep of a post-op patient's heart-rate monitor or the quiet hum of a newborn baby's incubator, 35th Medical Support Squadron biomedical equipment technicians deliver a constant lifeline to the base's patient-mending machinery.

"We are responsible for installing, modifying, troubleshooting, calibrating and repairing a wide variety of medical, laboratory and dental equipment," said Staff Sgt. Michael Southam, a 35th MDSS BME technician. "Just about every piece of medical equipment that can be plugged into an outlet comes through these doors."

By combining the knowledge of engineering, medicine and biology, the 7-person team of technicians ensures medical equipment is serviceable and safely configured before use.

The technicians respond to maintenance calls throughout the hospital's many sections and the base veterinarian clinic. They also make "house calls" to service equipment at basewide work centers.

However, not every military medical facility has technicians on hand to make sure equipment is working properly. There are only 83 active-duty BMETs shops in the Air Force that house about 530 Airmen in their respective career field. At every location, the technicians use special tools for the wide variety of equipment they service.

"Our shop has specialized test equipment designed to specifically check items such as infusion pumps, defibrillators, X-ray machines or the electrical safety of almost all the equipment in the facility," Sergeant Southam said.

Items like these are used to ensure administration of proper medication inside pumps, proper electric shock from defibrillators and proper exposure during an X-ray, he said.

On average, Misawa AB's BMETs provide more than 145 scheduled preventative maintenance inspections or calibrations, and about 80 unscheduled repairs on equipment each month. Without properly functioning equipment and the know-how to fix it on the spot, the results can be detrimental to a patient's life.

"The medical profession has made major advancements in diagnosing and treating patients, largely due to the advancement of equipment," Sergeant Southam said. "Without it, we would unfortunately go back to more of an 1800s view of medicine. More people would go undiagnosed. Some would die without the right equipment."

In addition to being readily available for maintenance, fixing equipment in house is cost-efficient and timely compared to sending it to manufacturers or maintenance providers that may take weeks to return it, Sergeant Southam said.

As patients receive care, they may not think about hospital equipment malfunctioning, but the BMETs team recognizes that their behind-the-scenes work is vital to the 35th Medical Group mission, and it must be done well.

"I ask myself when I'm working on equipment, 'did I do the best I can do?'" Sergeant Southam said. "This equipment may one day be used on me, my mother, father, sibling, wife or child."

Tech. Sgt. Stephen Sell, also a 35th MDSS BME technician, said he sees the significance of their job, one that continues to challenge and teach him new skills daily, even after more than 20 years in the field.

"The great thing about this job is it affects everyone. No matter who you are, you will be touched by a piece of medical equipment, whether you are seen by a doctor, dentist, nurse or physician's assistant," Sergeant Sell said. "This is why we must always be on top of our game. The result of our work directly helps the patient's diagnosis or treatment. We help ensure patient care happens."