Malmstrom bioenvironmental engineer's skills benefit local community

Senior Airman Rich Frank stands near test equipment March 4 at the bioenvironmental building. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Dillon White)

Senior Airman Rich Frank stands near test equipment March 4 at the bioenvironmental building. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Dillon White)

Senior Airman Rich Frank leads a bioenvironmental team during an exercise here in 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Senior Airman Rich Frank leads a bioenvironmental team during an exercise here in 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Senior Airman Rich Frank tests a package of beverage powder to demonstrate the identification capability of equipment at the Bioenvironmental building March 4. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Dillon White)

Senior Airman Rich Frank tests a package of beverage powder to demonstrate the identification capability of equipment at the Bioenvironmental building March 4. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Dillon White)

Senior Airman Rich Frank, 341st Medical Operations Squadron bioenvironmental engineer, demonstrates the capabilities of bioenvironmental equipment to identify substances March 4 at the bioenvironmental building. Staff Sgt. James Wood, observing, is also a bioenvironmental engineer with the 341st MDOS and is Airman Frank's supervisor. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Dillon White)

Senior Airman Rich Frank, 341st Medical Operations Squadron bioenvironmental engineer, demonstrates the capabilities of bioenvironmental equipment to identify substances March 4 at the bioenvironmental building. Staff Sgt. James Wood, observing, is also a bioenvironmental engineer with the 341st MDOS and is Airman Frank's supervisor. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Dillon White)

Senior Airman Rich Frank loads testing equipment with baseline gases to ensure it functions properly March 4 in the bioenvironmental building. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Dillon White)

Senior Airman Rich Frank loads testing equipment with baseline gases to ensure it functions properly March 4 in the bioenvironmental building. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Dillon White)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Unique job descriptions are status quo for the military. Approximately 1 percent of the United States population serves in the military, and a fraction of that serves in the Air Force. It's no wonder being a bioenvironmental engineer here would be extraordinarily unique.

For one Air Force Global Strike Command Airman, ensuring the safety of more than 4,000 assigned personnel, both civilian and military, is a daily task.

Senior Airman Rich Frank, from the 341st Medical Operations Squadron, maintains and calibrates numerous shelving units full of protective gear, instruments and sampling equipment labeled with acronyms and numbers. It's this equipment that he and the Bio team use to detect environmental threats and recommend protective or clean-up actions to commanders.

Among these instruments are two pieces of portable laboratory equipment, one is called a HAPSITE, which can detect air or fluid-borne chemicals, and the other is a substance identification instrument called a HazMatID. Airmen can use these to provide incident commanders with immediate laboratory test results they can then use to make decisions that save lives.

"We get a call saying, 'Hey, we don't know what it is,' we go in and determine what it is," Airman Frank said. "We may not be the ones cleaning it up, but we identify it and notify teams of what [personal protective equipment] they need."

Airman Frank collaborated with students and faculty at the Ohio State University and the Columbus, Ohio, Fire Department to expand Malmstrom's HazMatID library. He said the students and staff of OSU spend an immense amount of time testing substances for their studies, resulting in a substantial database that the Columbus Fire Department downloaded. He then worked with the firemen and OSU to load their extensive database onto Malmstrom's HazMatID. Now, bioenvironmental engineers here cannot only determine if a powder is coffee creamer or powdered ice tea in a matter of minutes, but what company made it and even what flavor.

Bioenvironmental engineers also check Minuteman III ICBM Launch Facility atmospheres as a proactive and responsive safety measure before Airmen enter facilities to perform maintenance on weapon systems and support equipment. The teams can also run investigative tests to determine if an individual has gunpowder residue on them, or test for biological hazards and test water sources.

"When we're going into a hazardous environment to quantify a hazardous substance it's good to know our PPE has been properly maintained to keep us safe from whatever hazards are in that environment," said Staff Sgt. James Wood, 341st MDOS bioenvironmental engineer, about Airman Frank's duty to maintain and calibrate the shop's equipment. "He's very dedicated to the Malmstrom mission and our job here -- very good wingman -- -- always willing to help out the others in our office."

Airman Frank also maintains the only mercury-detection equipment in Montana, which the team uses to respond to emergencies off base in coordination with local authorities.

"We recently responded to a mercury spill at the Red Cross building downtown," Airman Frank said. "They [store] a third of Montana's blood supply. We had an hour and a half to mitigate [the] hazard so they could get air handlers turned back on to keep the blood supply at the proper temperature. That was very fulfilling."

When asked what personal rewards his job provided him, he responded, "Knowing that I put my all into it, seeing my fellow Airmen [who] put on the uniform, hopefully knowing I did something to make their day a little easier, a little safer."