Refuelers win safety award ;[MIGRATE]

By Pvt. Danielle M. Jenkins | June 01, 2000

Marine Corps Air Station Refueling Division, Camp Pendleton, brought home the American Petroleum Institute Award (category three) recently.

Five other air stations in the category took part in the self-critiqued competition. Categories are commercial, Air Force and Army, and Navy and Marines.

"This competition is used to promote excellence in fuel management and to recognize those personnel and activities that made the most significant contributions to Marine Corps fuel operations and the fleet fuel support mission during the past year," said GySgt. Timothy Dollinger, fuels noncommissioned officer-in-charge.

It was the first time the refueling station here had entered the competition, which is composed of 11 events, including fuel operations and mission support, facilities and equipment maintenance, safety, fire prevention and protection practice.

Scoring is based on management of the 11 areas judged. The yearlong appraisal began Jan. 1 and ends Dec. 31. Package preparation is an ongoing process.

The 24 Marines had no additional training other than what they do every day, Dollinger said. "It is all about training your Marines and safety."

The event that tested the Marines most was hot refueling, considered by Dollinger the most dangerous type of refueling. Hot refueling involves pumping JP5 jet fuel into tanks while the engines are running.

"When you pull your car into the gas station, you turn the engine off to fill up, but here, it would take too long to have a helicopter land, turn the engines off, fuel, start up again and take off," Dollinger said. So, when the helicopters pull into the pits, they leave the engines on.

"It is dangerous. You must be extra careful."

He likened it to a pit stop during a NASCAR race -- but with higher stakes.

"Refueling can be dangerous, because if you fill the tank too full, it could explode," Dollinger said.

With that ever-present specter of danger, safety is stressed in every aspect of life at the station, Dollinger said.

The 200,000-gallon-capacity station is constantly monitored electronically, ensuring top-notch fuel quality and no leaks.

The fueling station also checks the gas going into aircraft.

"If you put bad gas into your car and you are driving down the street and your car fails, you can fix it, but when you put bad gas into a plane and it is up in the air, there is nowhere to go but down -- fast," Dollinger said.

Despite all their responsibility, the Marines work out of a small guard shack and a van. Dollinger wants to improve spirits by improving facilities.

"If I could change one thing for my Marines, it would be better facilities in the hot-pits. Our job is to make sure the overall refuel is successful. I think we are taken for granted sometimes. One little slip and something could go wrong, and a plane might not leave the ground," Dollinger said.

The award was a small token of recognition.

"We received a plaque that we get to keep," Dollinger said. "The commanding officer of the air station, (Col. Danny J. MacDaniel), received a letter of appreciation. We won a trophy, but the trophy will have to be sent back around November for next year's winners."