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Every second counts in annual 31st MXS Fuel Tank Extraction Exercise

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Thomas Calopedis
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Extracting an Airman trapped in a fuel tank can be a stressful challenge, as it takes a whole team of personnel from different professions working together seamlessly and time is of the essence in order to get the Airman out alive.

The 31st Maintenance Squadron’s Fuel Systems Repair Section held their annual fuel tank extraction exercise where they coordinated the operation of members from the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Protection, 31st Medical Group Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), 31st Fighter Wing Staff Agency Wing Safety and the Maintenance Operations Coordination Center (MOCC) to practice how to rescue one of their “Tank Rats” Airmen if they get trapped in a fuel tank at Aviano Air Base, Italy, April 20, 2022.

“Going through the exercise and being familiar with the steps of the emergency response plan is crucial and can determine a life or death situation,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Rafael Bautista Guerrero, 31st MXS aircraft fuel systems craftsman.

“Routine inspections of equipment as well as in-tank maintenance play a large role in preventing Airmen from getting trapped in the tank,” said Bautista Guerrero. “It is also important to track the integrity of protective gear and respirators to keep Airmen safe if they do become trapped.”

The ability for an Airman to make a full recovery can decrease the longer they are in the life threating environment of the tank, so smart and quick decisions can make the difference between life and death. In order to save the Airman’s life, the most vital part of the extraction process is getting them out of the hazardous area as soon as possible while minimizing injuries.

 “If a person needs to be extracted from a fuel tank they will have body injuries,” said Bautista Guerrero. “We try our best to protect the person being extracted but our number one priority is getting them out of the tank quickly and if that person is unresponsive inside a fuel tank, every second counts.”


To extract an Airman safely and efficiently, teamwork is essential not just between members of the 31st MXS, but between all the teams they are coordinating with on the extraction.

“Working as a team and having good communication with emergency responders and the MOCC is crucial,” said Bautista Guerrero. “We all need to work together to achieve the best results in the end.”

After the 31st MXS safely extracts the Airman, they work together with the other on-site units to ensure the Airman quickly gets the help they need. For the EMTs from the 31st MDG, their job is just beginning and requires just as much teamwork.

 “Knowing your team and what everyone’s strengths are is crucial,” said Airman 1st Class Marshay Thomas, 31st Health Care Operations Squadron aerospace medical technician.

Although incidents of Airmen getting stuck in fuel tanks are rare, the 31st MXS Fuel Systems Repair Section still conducts this training annually and runs thorough inspections of their gear to keep their “Tank Rats” safe. This way if an actual extraction needs to happen, they’ll be ready.