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Mechanic recognized for extinguishing blaze

A pneudraulic systems mechanic was recognized with an Air Force Civilian Achievement Award Medal on Jan. 30 for putting out a fire last year in Tinker Air Force Base’s Constant Speed Drive Test Bay.

Last January when an arc flash caused a sudden fire on a constant speed drive test stand, Scott Tschirhart, 76th Commodities Maintenance Group, reacted by grabbing a fire extinguisher and putting the fire out before it had a chance to reach the highly flammable oil pit nearby, successfully preventing more than $7 million in damages to vital Air Force equipment.

“In our Air Force there is one building in the entire United States of America that works on CSDs and keeps the Air Force flying, and it’s right here,” said Col. Matthew Lewin, 76th Commodities Maintenance Group commander. “If this place had burned down, it would cripple our military. Within a month we’d stop flying airplanes. That one, single action protected our ability to protect the nation.”

At the time, Tschirhart was in his testing area when he said he heard a loud pop and saw a bright flash of light. Upon further investigation, he saw that a fire had quickly grown to about eight feet high and reacted by grabbing a fire extinguisher and quickly putting out the blaze.

Tschirhart, who has worked on Tinker AFB since 1999, said that his previous experience with fire prevention during his five years in the Navy provided him with the confidence in approaching the situation.

“It only took about 15 or 20 seconds to put the fire out, so it went by pretty quick,” Tschirhart said.

Clint Cox, tear down and test cell supervisor for the Constant Speed Drive Test Bay, was also on scene and activated the fire alarm while Tschirhart was putting out the flames. He said that the situation would have been much worse had Tschirhart not been so calm in determining what to do in response to the fire and acting appropriately.

“Once the insulation caught fire and then the oil caught fire, it went up quickly,” Cox said. “If it had dropped down into the oil pit and the oil had caught on fire, we would have been in big trouble.”

With more than 80 employees operating in the shop, the sole focus of the Constant Speed Drive Test Bay is testing the drives to ensure they are ready for use. With seven testing stations, it is the only shop in the United States dedicated to testing these parts within the Air Force.

Constant speed drives operate by speeding up an aircraft’s generator while it is running in low idle, to ensure the engine has constant voltage the whole time. Cox said the piece is vital to running an aircraft, especially smaller aircraft like fighter jets that then are only able to operate on emergency energy.

“The reason this is such an important effort isn’t just putting the fire out, when you take a look at this facility it is a no-fail mission,”  Lewin said. “In the Air Force we would recognize an Airman for taking that sort of action. So, I thought it was critical to do the same thing with our civilian Airmen.”