MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
February 12 at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany was not a good day to be outside. The temperature hovered near the freezing mark, the skies were overcast, it was windy and stormy, with spitting snow mixed with ice.
But when a major electrical circuit on base failed and darkened half of Building 3500, all of Building 3600, the Naval Branch Health Clinic, Well House 3 and other facilities, workers in the Public Works Branch assessed the situation and moved out to get the job done, underground.
“We looked into the situation and realized the fault was very hard to find and the repair would likely take several days,” said Lt. Cmdr. Marc L. Rouleau, public works officer, Installation and Environment Division, MCLB Albany. “The repair crew of Dave Dauro, Terry Dorminey, David McCool, Shawn Rutherford, Kim Brooks and Eric Brunner went to work. They worked long days, but we tried to keep them from working at night so we could keep them safer, since they were conducting underground operations in confined spaces looking for the fault.”
The fault was isolated to a 1.5 mile section of buried electric distribution line and the repair crew had to go from manhole to manhole to drop down into the darkness, armed with battery-powered lights and safety equipment to search for the fault. Access to the underground line was only through manholes.
“In thirty degree weather, the worker going underground had to deal with an environment that was wet, dirty, very cold and very confined,” Rouleau said. “Underground areas such as these may contain gases that can be fatal to humans, so they must be checked, cleared and constantly ventilated before anyone enters.”
The men who worked for days in foul weather to restore power to a large area of the base were rewarded for their safe efforts in hazardous, confined spaces, with the MCLB Albany Safety Medallion.
What began Feb. 12 with a power outage affecting hundreds of people aboard base, ended at 6 p.m. Feb. 14 when the crew energized the system, after locating and repairing the fault.
“They were rewarded for performing this very demanding task that had to be done quickly but safely,” Rouleau said. “I want to congratulate our electrical crew for doing an outstanding job and doing it safely.”
The work the crew did on repairing this outage was more complicated than what they do to maintain electric services above ground.
According to PWB officials, confined entry space procedures and training are intended to ensure workers enter an area that is safe.
They point out that it requires constant training to ensure a worker who enters a confined space is qualified to work in that space.
“There is a supervisor on the scene who assures that the work is being performed safely,” Rouleau explained. “Then, safety attendants monitor the process, so there is a triple layer of safety to ensure the confined space work is performed safely.”
The Risk Management Office is responsible for issuing permits for confined space operations.
“Before anyone enters a manhole, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration considers as a permit-required confined space, I have to issue a permit prior to entry,” said Stacey Williams, safety specialist, confined space manager, Risk Management Office, Public Safety Division, MCLB Albany. “We test for several items including carbon monoxide, combustibles, hydrogen sulfide and oxygen deficiency.”
All of the PWB personnel who worked underground or supported the operations from above-ground were trained in the proper procedures.
“Each person who goes into the manhole knows their responsibility,” he said.
Some of the manholes the crew accessed were approximately 30 feet deep. When they entered, they wore safety equipment and cold weather clothing and worked while perched on a narrow ladder.
They also wore a safety harness attached by steel cable to a study support brace on the surface of the ground over the manhole. Should they slip off the ladder, the steel cable would lock, breaking their fall.
“Going down into these manholes is something we don’t want to have to do, but we have to do it,” said Dave Dauro, utilities supervisor, PWB. “Its part of our job.”
Most power cables aboard base are below ground and crews must enter a subterranean world to perform their tasks.
“The number one thing we think about is safety. The base can be down, but we know we can’t feel pressured to get the job finished. We tell everyone ‘the job will be done when it’s done as quickly as we can do it, but safety has to come first,’” he said. “We have all the support we need, with good people and good tools. When everybody works together, we can take care of things.”
When the crew began descending into manholes looking for the problem, they worked their way through 15-20 of them before locating the main source of the outage.
The crew worked all day on Feb. 12-14, going from manhole to manhole, setting up the necessary equipment needed to safely descent into the underworld in search of the elusive fault that had darkened major facilities at the base. They were confident that it was within the 1.5 mile stretch of underground line they and previously identified, but each section had to be throughly checked to isolate the fault so repairs could begin.
“We couldn’t quit until we found it, and it turned out to be a high-voltage splice that had blown out because it was underwater and shorted, which tripped a circuit breaker,” Dauro said. “We’re only as good as the men on our crew. With the tools and the right training, we can do about anything.”
The supervisor said he was pleased that his crew was recognized for their efforts under adverse conditions, but he saw a larger purpose to the work they do.
“We’re doing this for the heroes that are overseas. We’re just trying to keep this end working for them. We’re not heroes by any means,” Dauro said.