NIGERIEN AIR BASE 201, Niger –
At the edge of the Sahara desert, the 724th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron fire station is manned 24/7, available to assist base personnel at a moment’s notice. In such a remote environment functioning equipment is vital and replacements aren’t easy to come by.
When the fire department found a radiator leak in their P-18 Combat Fire Truck, the Airmen in the vehicle maintenance flight had to act quickly. The P-18 is a 2,000-gallon water tanker normally used for resupply of other fire engines at locations without adequate water supplies.
“We don’t really have the option out here to order one and leave a truck down so we had to make our own seal to fix the radiator,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ian McGranahan, 724th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron vehicle maintainer.
Once the radiator was out of the vehicle, mechanics cut rubber tubes out of old tires and placed them on the inlets using an air hose to force air through the radiator. They discovered that the radiator had eroded at the bottom and the seal had broken down, releasing coolant on the ground.
“Back at home station we usually down the vehicle because if the radiator’s leaking you don’t patch the radiator, you rebuild it or replace the entire radiator,” said McGranahan.
In order to make sure there weren’t other issues they flushed out the entire cooling system and made sure the systems were acting correctly. Once they verified the integrity of the system, they created their own seal on the bottom of the radiator.
“We wanted to try to get it done as fast as we can so the fire department could get their truck back,” said Staff Sgt. Travis Rutherford, a 724th EABS vehicle maintainer.
With help from other Airmen in the flight, McGranahan and Rutherford worked around the clock to fix the tank.
“We definitely pulled our efforts together. Every hand in the shop touched it so it was definitely out as fast as it possibly could’ve been because everyone helped out,” said McGranahan. “It’s definitely more common out here to have to figure out how to repair something, rather than just order it.
According to the mechanics, it can take anywhere from one to three months to get supplies for a small repair. The Airmen are willing to try to fix anything—as long as they’re sure the fix will hold in the desert climate.
“If it’s not safe enough we’re not gonna take a risk, but if we can repair it then we will,” Rutherford said.
In just three days, the Airmen of the 724th EABS vehicle maintenance flight were able to rescue the truck, so firefighters maintained the ability to rescue others.
Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the 435th Air Expeditionary Wing website.