“They said, ‘The server room is getting way too hot, and if we don’t get these servers cooled down, we’ll have to shut down the building and relocate to continue operations,’” said Airman 1st Class Joshua Allen, 375th Civil Engineer Squadron heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician, explaining a phone call he got from the U.S. Transportation Command headquarters while he was on standby.
“Whenever you hear something like ‘shut down’ and ‘relocate,’ you want to get it taken care of as soon as possible,” said Allen.
USTRANSCOM’s servers are crucial, as they help them manage the movement of 1,203 aircraft and 373 vessels that transport troops, fuel, equipment and humanitarian aid across the globe.
“I went to the mechanical room,” said Allen, “and a pump was off, as well as one of the chillers. We got that chiller back online and started another pump, and we started another chiller to help the building cool down faster.”
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The HVAC section is not only responsible for maintaining servers and equipment, but also for keeping about 210 buildings on base at a comfortable, safe temperature.
“You look at one big, important building and then you also turn around and look at the individual we’re trying to maintain,” said Benjamin Brown, HVAC section supervisor, explaining how his section helps care for everyone from a child at the Child Development Center to an Airman living in the dorms.
The job itself requires extensive training, including a 99-day technical school followed by on-the-job training. The section’s 33 employees, Airmen and civilian, must have a great understanding of the science behind heating, cooling and ventilation.
“It’s not an assembly line,” said Brown. “Every day is different. The Airmen have the opportunity to take the things they learn about electricity, gas, pressures and the refrigerant circuit and resolve [different] problems.”
Trying to do an HVAC technician’s work with a lack of understanding could be dangerous.
“There are a lot of hazards in this field,” said Brown. “If you’re working on heating equipment, you have to work with gas and gas lines. Handling refrigerant, if you get your hands in there, you’re going to get frostbit. There’s also electrical hazards.”
Brown said that he sees a sense of joy in his Airmen when they’re a part of fixing problems around base.
“It’s a cool feeling seeing your work once completed,” said Allen. “It’s cool to see the change and the impact you made.”
Brown, who started as an Airman himself, said teaching young Airmen has been the best part of his 37 years at the section.
“To see these guys learn this craft and their job, for me, that’s the most rewarding thing,” said Brown. “It’s seeing them come in and learn and not understand and pretty soon they can go charge a machine, repair a machine or troubleshoot a machine. I can’t tell you how proud I am of these guys.”