STAFF SGT. ROBIN SAYLER
Montana Army National Guard
The day started out normally as I left for work as an operator of a HEMTT fueler for an aviation unit. When I arrived, I called a friend and wished her a happy anniversary. Little did I know this would also become an anniversary for me. Unfortunately, it’s not one I care to celebrate.
As a fueler with an aviation unit, my job was to conduct thorough preventive maintenance checks and services of my HEMTT first thing every morning. I would then test the aviation fuel to ensure water was not present. The HEMTT I was assigned to work on belonged to another state’s National Guard and was on loan to my unit. To say this piece of equipment was in bad shape would be an understatement.
Having completed the PMCS, I turned my attention to testing the fuel. Being a shorter Soldier, I was accustomed to using the truck ladder as my personal step stool to reach the fuel valves. During my 13 years as a fueler, I had done this many times. On this vehicle, however, the ladder was damaged and the hinge points had a gap, even in the open position.
After reaching up and opening the valve, I started to descend the ladder. As my weight shifted on the ladder, the middle finger on my right hand slipped into the gap. I felt a sharp pain as my finger was crushed. I was quickly taken to the hospital, but the injury to my finger was so severe the surgeon had to amputate to the first joint.
This was a freak accident — a one-in-a-million possibility, right? That’s what I thought until I received a call one day from a fellow fueler. He had just left the emergency room with the same injury. Needless to say, I was shocked and curious, so I asked if the ladder was damaged. His answer, believe it or not, was “yes.” That made two injuries, occurring a little more than a year apart, caused by damaged ladders on HEMTT fuel trucks.
The moral of the story is Soldiers must continue to conduct proper PMCS. As they do, they need to ensure the safety pin is in place to secure ladders properly. Also, make sure damaged equipment such as a ladder is replaced quickly. Ladders may go through conditions that impact their integrity, making them unsafe for use. Both of these ladders were probably damaged while the vehicles were in use with the ladders in the down position. It is very important to remember to stow your vehicle ladder in accordance with the operator’s manual when they are not in use and any time you are going to move the vehicle. Take it from me — you may be saving yourself or one of your fellow Soldiers from a serious injury.