A plunge to safety

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kali L. Gradishar
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
At a lofty 108 feet, the air traffic control tower looms over Fairchild as the guardian, the eyes and the ears, of the base. Operations run smoothly on a daily basis, ensuring aircraft fly safely on and off the runways. But what happens when disaster strikes in the tower?

For emergencies of the most extreme disposition, when tower personnel are unable to reach safety on the ground by any other means, the use of the Baker's Life Chute provides them with a secure escape.

"The life chute is now the standard emergency egress system out of the tower in the Air Force," said Master Sgt. Clarence Helms, 92nd Operations Support Squadron tower chief controller. "It is the quickest, safest way to evacuate the crew in situations that make the building unstable or when the crew can't make it out the door."

The Baker's Life Chute is a tube of weaved nylon rope that is fastened to the rail on the tower's catwalk and is tossed over the side. If time allows, the tower crew will wait for the assistance of the base fire department, as the fire crew can secure the chute a distance from the tower to allow a more angled slide down.

In a real emergency, it might take only two to three minutes to get the life chute situated for evacuation, said Sergeant Helms. And it would take only 15 minutes if the tower crew delays evacuation for the arrival of the fire department to fasten the chute an angle.

Though the chute has "never been used in an emergency situation before," said Sergeant Helms, it is still necessary to conduct the annual training to ensure personnel are prepared and well-trained in the evacuation procedures involving the Baker's Life Chute.

All tower personnel must take the plunge at least once, a training experience that could make anyone's stomach flip. The tower conducted their annual training Sept. 25 with Chief Master Sergeant Paul Sikora, command chief, in attendance to get a glimpse at the training that other Airmen may endure.

Eight stories high, Airmen at the air traffic control tower donned suits provided by the fire department in preparation for the training experience. One by one, the Airmen slid down the chute.

"This training is important because it is the only apparatus used to get tower personnel evacuated when going out the door is not an option," Sergeant Helms noted. "And the best way to train is hands on."