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Inspection crews keep buildings safe, help find maintenance problems, fixes

Chad Williams, left, and Harold Keck perform a building inspection. The two were part of an 11-person facility inspection team, from the 72nd Maintenance Engineering Office,  combs over a Tinker Building. They are inventorying and cataloguing anything and everything about the building. The look at everything from water fountains to roof access, documenting everything that needs repair now or in the future. The team inspects more than 3 million square feet per year. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Chad Williams, left, and Harold Keck perform a building inspection. The two were part of an 11-person facility inspection team, from the 72nd Maintenance Engineering Office, combs over a Tinker Building. They are inventorying and cataloguing anything and everything about the building. The look at everything from water fountains to roof access, documenting everything that needs repair now or in the future. The team inspects more than 3 million square feet per year. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- On a Tuesday afternoon, several individuals dressed in khaki "facility inspection" cargo vests and white hard-hats, boarded a white Tinker van.

But don't categorize these individuals with the bad guys, said Harold Keck, 72nd Civil Engineering Directorate Maintenance Engineering Section chief. They like to think of themselves as alligator hunters, trying to remove the large lizards, destroying the swamp.

"We take a more strategic and comprehensive approach to alleviating the facility and infrastructure issues," Mr. Keck said. "One day, we hope, there will be fewer alligators to fight."

Unlike shop craftsmen who fix day-to-day issues and wrestle the proverbial alligators, maintenance engineers examine a Tinker facility's infrastructure, noting building discrepancies and suggesting solutions.

The maintenance engineering section was introduced in February 2008. The unit is made up of approximately 12 team members including civil, electrical and mechanical engineers, plus technicians. Their mission is to inspect the 20 million square feet of Tinker facilities, inventory real property equipment, including the newly added Tinker Aerospace Complex buildings, and base utilities.

Patti Larman, maintenance engineering general technician, said their assessment is similar to a house inspection.

"We're like the landlord and we're going in to look at the structure to see how it's holding up," she said. "We look at the structure itself -- the exterior and inside -- and we speak with the customer, or renter, about mechanical issues like heat and air problems, roof leaks, overhead doors, and emergency evacuation routes; to name a few items that we consider when we inspect."

The engineers will also research the facility noting its history, floor plan, problem trends and compile a 10 to 30-page report of their findings. When finished, they will give the facility an "infrastructure conditioning index," or an ICI, rating.

"It basically gives an overall rating of each facility on Tinker Air Force Base, so Air Force Materiel Command leadership can assess how much money they're going to need to spend on that facility," said Trey Middleton, maintenance engineering civil technician. "Our ratings help budget for the future, but locally, it also helps with projects for civil engineering.

"We're just here to help the Air Force and facility managers as a whole," Mr. Middleton said. "We're not there to write someone up."

Mr. Keck agreed.

"Our goal is to help Tinker's leadership make the best facility investment choices based on the limited resources, competing facility requirements and across multiple missions," he said. "ME folks are working to ensure the facilities, equipment and utilities continue to function as designed without any hiccups. As long as everything works like it's supposed to, nobody notices. I guess that's where we find out satisfaction - taking care of thingsĀ before they break."