Safe and Sound at ALS

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Chelsea McLemore
  • Felicia Rivers Airman Leadership School

“Are you serious?”

He had just shaved off a significant portion of his thumb while doing hobby work on a home scroll saw. He’d been to the emergency room, was awaiting surgery to graft the skin, and had reported to work on pain medications with his thumb swaddled in so much gauze it looked like the driving iron of a golf club.

This was the response of one of my staff to me, the unit safety representative, a year ago when I began asking him for information to file an AF Form 978, Supervisor’s Mishap Report, required in Air Force Materiel Command for any on-the-job, or home, mishaps resulting in hospitalization and/or damage to government property. 

“Yes,” I said. “Were there any witnesses?”

I continued down the form getting the big picture, and finished filing my report.

Breaking down the process and determining the preventability of mishaps is tricky work, especially when interviewing persons still partially reeling from the pain. Task number one is to always treat the person, get them to safety and the care they need, saving the documentation until the immediate threat has resolved. 

I have personally been the one who hit my head, hard, on a pelican case, after tripping on an uncovered network cable and damaged a government vehicle by backing it into a tight space without a spotter. I have learned hard lessons from both these things, but mainly that most mishaps can be prevented, the recovery process varies, and I would always prefer damage to property over person.

I am coming to the end of my 4-year tour as an Airman Leadership School instructor, and I’ve submitted five of these safety reports in this time, usually for students. ALS is an anomaly of U.S. Air Force work centers, in that it is a temporary stop, only 5 or 6 weeks of professional military education, but for those 5-6 weeks, we take on the supervisory responsibility for the students, including reporting up any visits they take to the ER to base safety.

Personally, I think five reports in four years for 836 students and seven cadre is a pretty good record. However, it takes only one mishap so severe that it wrecks someone’s life to make you realize even one preventable mishap is too much.

Class 19-F is in session now, during the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Safe and Sound Week campaign. Recently, we’ve added safety representatives to the flight additional duties - and I love them.

The safety representatives brief each class weekly on a personalized topic of their choice. This helps keep safety relevant and at the forefront of students mind’s before they break for the weekend. Their efforts also bolster our unit’s safety program, something I shamelessly claim on our quadrennial Voluntary Protection Program checklist to maintain our status for VPP Gold.   

I interviewed the safety representatives from each flight in this class to find out why they volunteered for the positions, and if they’ve ever personally had encounters with a mishap.

Senior Airman Kimberly Edwards, 461st Maintenance Group equipment journeyman and the safety representative for ALS Tactical Flight, said, “I think safety is very important. You can’t get enough of it. It gets redundant, but you have to consider how it ranges, it effects everything, from preventing DUI’s, reminding people to check their tires, speeding, proper form in physical training, staying hydrated, and other things. That’s why it is important, because I care about people.”

Edwards has experienced zero safety mishaps on the job. 

Senior Airman James Irons, a National Guardsman aircraft fuels systems journeyman from the 164th Maintenance Squadron out of Memphis, Tennessee, and safety representative for ALS Wingman Flight, said, “I work on aircraft fuel systems. Each job we get we have to prepare for. We have to remove gas and fuel around anything that has electronics, because the fuel vapor can spark a fire. Safety is a big part of my job and we practice it every day. And of course the PPE – we have aprons, gloves, hearing protection, and full-face respirators hooked up to tanks.”

Irons has not experienced any mishaps while in the Air Force, however he shared a story of a close-call he’d had working for another company before joining.

“I was carrying a fork for a forklift, very heavy, in a confined space, and fell backward, and it landed on my chest.” 

Fortunately he was not badly injured, but he said it “could have cost me my chance at an Air Force career.”

Staff Sgt. Brian Haskins, 78th Security Forces Response Force leader and the safety representative for ALS Warfighter Flight, said, “I think safety is really important, coming from my job as a cop. We tend to enforce the law, but forget how important it is to be careful. Things such as don’t go out without a plan, if you’re underage, don’t drink. It isn’t worth doing something illegal when, in 1-2 years’ time, it wouldn’t even be a crime. A lot of people don’t think of the possible risks of getting hurt or hurting others.” 

Haskins emphasized that he has never experienced any gun-related mishaps; they handle firearms with extreme care. However he knows of two co-workers taken out of the job for up to three weeks for infections to their hands caused from tripping on concrete potholes while on foot patrol. 

“When we’re out walking and doing foot patrols, if you don’t look where you’re walking and walk heel-to-toe, you can break your ankles in a pothole.”

All three safety representatives spread awareness during Safe and Sound Week by hanging up posters advertising the Airman Safety Action Program app, a downloadable phone app for reporting safety concerns immediately. You can read more about the ASAP app and find posters for your work center at

Haskins, from a law enforcement perspective, would love to take an app like this to the next level, channeling its reports to the Base Defense Operational Control and other first responders like fire and medical.

I appreciated the initiative and concern of these three remarkable airmen. I believe I can exit this assignment easy, knowing the safety program, and the care of our airmen by these leaders in training, is in good and capable hands.


Staff Sgt. Chelsea McLemore is an RF Transmission System Jouneyman finishing the end of a vectored special duty as an Airman Leadership School instructor.