78th HCOS BMETs: Medical maintenance sustaining the warfighter

  • Published
  • By Kisha Foster Johnson
  • 78th Air Base Wings Public Affairs

Biomedical Equipment Technician or BMET is one of those little-known career fields in the Air Force, yet it has a big impact on readiness and lethality.

“In simple terms we are medical equipment mechanics,” said Staff Sgt. Monica Hewey, 78th Healthcare Operations Squadron BMET at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. “Initially, I didn’t know Biomedical Equipment Maintenance existed and wasn’t clear about what to expect.”

“My Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery scores in electronics/mechanical were ‘off the charts’ and this career field was picked for me and I was like, what is this,” Hewey continued. “When I heard medical I thought I would have to work with patients and that terrified me.”

While BMETs do not provide direct patient care, they are an essential part of the healthcare process.

These Airmen are responsible for repairing complex medical equipment such as computed tomography machines, anesthesia machines, electrocardiogram machines, patient monitors, and equipment sterilizers.

“Basically, any equipment you find in a hospital we are trained to fix it,” said Master Sgt. Charles Wolfe, 78th HCOS Healthcare Technology Management Section chief. “We maintain, repair, install, inspect, and calibrate medical equipment for Robins. We also support the medical element of the 94th Airlift Wing at Dobbins Air Force Base, Georgia.”

Wolfe said his shop is responsible for about 2,000 pieces of equipment at Robins.

Regular maintenance is key to keeping medical devices and tools working optimally, he adds.

“The majority of items are on an inspection cycle,” Wolfe said. “We perform annual calibrations, change out filters, make sure tubes are not cracked, rings are lubricated, nothing leaking. By conducing routine maintenance, it helps prevent unscheduled maintenance.”

This team’s daily contributions help sustain healthy and fit Airmen who are essential to Accelerating the Competitive Edge for Air Force Materiel Command’s diverse missions.

“What we do is extremely important because we make sure all medical equipment is good,” said Wolfe. “If the equipment is not good, then patients can’t be treated. That means pilots can’t get their flight screening, they can’t fly missions without flight physicals, and then readiness rates drop.

“So, our little piece of the puzzle is making sure medical equipment works, which plays a part in making sure the entire Air Force mission works,” added Wolfe.

Continuing education is also a must to help these technicians keep their skills sharp.

“I like that the education is hands on,” said Hewey. “It’s a mix of electronics, systems, mechanics, hydraulics, plumbing - basically a little bit of everything.”

Once a year, members of the Air Force Medical Equipment Repair Center from Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, come to Robins to provide repair support and training.

MERC consists of specialty trained BMETs who help others in their career field.

“They provide support on some of the more critical equipment items in our inventory, such as radiology, ventilators, defibrillators and anesthesia systems. MERC is a step between organizational maintenance and planned/scheduled depot level maintenance,” said Wolfe.

For Hewey, she also welcomes the challenge some less critical device repairs bring.

“I really like fixing dental chairs. As weird as it is, they get really nasty with clogs,” she said. “Other BMETs are like, why do you like fixing them? Well, it’s always an easy fix, but there is so much to a dental chair. There are so many tubes and barbs, the clog could literally be anywhere and it’s fun to trace all the way down to find it and fix it.”

No matter the task, Hewey always remembers the important piece of advice a BMET instructor shared during training school at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.   

“The instructor told us to treat every single piece of equipment we work on as if it’s going to be used on our loved ones,” said Hewey. “I keep that mindset every day, because that equipment is going to touch someone’s loved one, and I want the equipment to be safe and work properly.”