Pandemic can’t stop AFTAC’s innovative Airmen

  • Published
  • By Susan A. Romano
  • AFTAC Public Affairs

As cleaning and disinfecting supplies rapidly disappeared from store shelves and warehouse stockrooms, demand far outweighed the availability of these products to protect against COVID-19.
The Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick AFB, Fla., was no different. As the nuclear treaty monitoring agency prepared to sanitize the center to protect the health and well-being of its workforce against the growing pandemic, supply technicians realized the amount of standard cleaning products in their inventory was at a minimum.
So what does the organization that’s charged with conducting vital ‘round-the-clock operations do to ensure its Airmen are safe?
One word:  Innovate.
AFTAC is home to the Ciambrone Radiochemistry Laboratory, a one-of-a-kind Air Force facility that identifies radiologic or nuclear debris in support of the U.S. Nuclear Debris Collection and Analysis Program.  To perform its mission, the laboratory must be able to precisely isolate and purify specific radionuclides from a variety of environmental samples.  Scientists who work at the radiochemistry lab frequently rely on ethanol as a reagent to assist in this process.
To adhere to guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and by direction of the AFTAC commander, members of AFTAC’s Safety Office and techs from Ciambrone teamed up to develop a solution using existing chemicals the lab already had it its inventory.
“One of the most commonly used reagents in almost any chemistry lab is ethanol,” said Senior Airman John Mullaney, sample control technician.  “So Senior Airman (Ethan) Rumble and I took the 100 percent ethanol liquid we use for lab operations and diluted it down to a 70-percent solution using deionized water.  Once we had the right concentration, we filled spray bottles with the diluted ethanol and provided them to the assigned cleaning crews.”
AFTAC Airmen then used the solution to wipe down door handles, computer keyboards, telephone handsets, elevator buttons, tables, break room countertops, and other commonly touched areas within the center to reduce the risk of contamination.
“The ethanol solution was allowed to naturally evaporate and the vapors to dissipate before the next team of workers were allowed in that area,” said Maj. Hershel Lackey, lab director of operations.  “While we waited for the surfaces to dry, the team documented the precise amount of solution that was used in a specific area and senior leaders were notified that the area was fully disinfected.”
The team took their ingenuity one step further.  They realized the lab supplies could also be used to disinfect the rest rooms and floors throughout the headquarters building as well as in the lab, which allowed for uninterrupted mission flow without putting Airmen in harm’s way or inadvertently furthering the spread of the virus by having a contracted crew to come into the facility for general purpose cleaning.
“When faced with adversity, you will not find a smarter, more innovative group of men and women than you will here at the Air Force Technical Applications Center,” said Col. Andy Steffen, commander of the 709th Surveillance and Analysis Group.  “AFTAC was in a hard place with limited cleaning supplies, and we knew it would be weeks – possibly months – before the supply chain would catch up to the demand.  I am always amazed at the resourcefulness of the folks who work here.  They got the job done and they did it exceedingly well, and I’m incredibly proud of them and their efforts.”
Lackey praised the AFATC Safety team for their invaluable oversight as well.
“Joy Morris and Sara Kroll were instrumental in ensuring we followed all required OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) guidelines,” the major said.  “This was truly a team effort across the board, and we definitely demonstrated one way to ‘flatten the curve’ while fighting the virus.”