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Engineering How to Save Lives: Creating Tools for a Better Emergency Response

This post is brought to you by the Air Force Collaboratory

What if your job entailed developing lifesaving technologies everyday? For 1st Lt. Michael Ysebaert, an Air Force engineer, working to saves lives is just another part of his day-to-day work at the Air Force Research Lab. He works to equip an elite team of highly-skilled Airmen called Pararescuemen (or PJs) who are trained to find and rescue people after disasters occur.

With a background in mechanical engineering, Ysebaert first decided to pursue a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field after discovering a love for working on cars in high school. “I enjoyed tearing into things, learning how each part worked, and building it back up better,” says Ysebaert. Also fascinated by physics, Ysebaert is able to do what he loves as part of the 711th Human Performance Wing on the battlefield air targeting man-aided knowledge (BATMAN) team.

Always working on several projects at once, Ysebaert and his teammates have regular meetings with industry leaders to learn about the latest and greatest gear. And to ensure they’re on the right track, they also often interact with Air Force Operators to ensure projects are aligning based on need. Ysebaert notes it’s a very collaborative environment. “We each have our roles, but it’s common to bring in another teammate to bounce ideas off of. That’s how ideas materialize—team collaboration.”

One project Ysebaert has worked on is the portable litter device. In layman terms, a litter is akin to a human-sized basket to transport the injured. It’s used to carry and evacuate critical patients in emergency or disaster situations, usually via helicopter. Ysebaert and his team worked to reduce the weight so it’d be lighter and more efficient for PJs to carry in the field. “We’re reducing the burden of the operator by improving how the patient is transported,” says Ysebaert.

Ysebaert has also worked on designing a fast rope descent device. The goal of the new rope design is to prevent rope burns and reduce the transition time for PJs from fast rope mode to on-the-ground operational mode.

And when it comes to devising improved functionality, he isn’t just creating innovative technologies in a lab—he’s using them, too. To create a prototype of the rope, Ysebaert and his team used CAD software to create a model and then created a 3D printed mold, which they used to manufacture their own prototypes in-house.

Last year, Ysebaert had the opportunity to attend a training course for PJs and work alongside the very individuals he’s creating tools for. He says, “It ended up being an awesome environment to learn more about the broad PJ mission and capability.” As an engineer, learning of the missions was crucial. As Ysebaert notes it helps to ensure he designs equipment that will enhance the PJs capabilities and “not just look good on a shelf.”

The collaboration even brought about suggestions from the PJs themselves. “After discussing our objectives, one PJ presented a brilliant solution for the fast rope descent device that we’re pursuing further,” says Ysebaert. This showcases an important point Ysebaert makes about working in a STEM field: leaders need both communication skills and problem solving skills. “Without good communication skills, you’ll be presenting end users a fork when they really needed a spoon.”

If you want to put your STEM skills to the test, check out The Air Force Collaboratory here.

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