ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The Mask Issue facility serves all installation chemical workers who are required to have two M40A1 masks properly fitted for use at any time -- one for operational use and one in case of an emergency.

Personnel for the Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction Business Unit, however, tend to use their masks daily, whether it is for a remediation project in Australia or the Spring Valley in Washington.

In nine years of service at APG, JoAnn Weeks, a mask fit operator for CBARR, has never worried that a tested piece of equipment would fail while being used by personnel.

"Nothing leaves here without being tested and we have a surefire, proven system. The organization under Denny Hall has had a very good track record for [personal protective equipment] not failing," Weeks said. "I test masks, gloves, boots, aprons and hoods, but mask fitting is my favorite part of the job. All of the PPE that goes out of here has to be inspected, and I'm certified to do all of that. There have been projects all around the world, and all of the PPE is tested at this facility."

The M40A1 mask is required to be fit tested every six months, and personnel may bring in multiple masks at one time but require a special appointment. The assessment includes eight, one-minute exercises to stress the mask's ability to seal to the subject's face. These exercises include actions such as normal breathing, deep breathing, reaching for the floor and ceiling, facial expressions, moving the head in different directions and reciting the "Rainbow Passage." This type of fit-test procedure has remained the same for years, Weeks said, but a change in policy and an upgraded facility has resulted in significant improvements for customers.

"I remember a time when it was pure torture to spend a day at Mask Issue. It didn't matter how early in the morning we showed up for the inspection, we still had to wait endless hours to be serviced," Carmen Androver of the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity said. "Today, it is a pleasure to walk in, to the personnel and do the fit test with your technicians. The training personnel are very knowledgeable of the subject matter and the new training room is a great improvement."

According to Weeks, two years ago a change in policy required mask fit operators to swap out entire masks after one year when the air canister expired, rather than just replacing the canister. A new mask improves sanitation and reduces health hazards, while ensuring that personnel were receiving top-of-the-line quality masks every year. It also resulted in Mask Issue stocking additional masks on the shelves to meet the needs of customers, who have also seen a reduction in waiting time for mask fit testing.

According to Weeks, 10 to 15 masks are tested in a typical day. Additionally, an enclosed classroom with new desks and equipment can accommodate up to 16 trainees; which was not possible four years ago. During this training, employees like Weeks instruct participants on how to properly inspect and don the mask.

"A lot of people want to grab a hold of their mask, pull the straps tighter than what it needs to be and the mask rides up and the harness is higher than its supposed to be," Weeks said. "But you have to let them do it themselves because when they leave, the four properly adjusted straps should not be touched."

The educational approach to fit testing helps the ECBC workforce better understand how to properly don a mask and adjust it in case of an emergency, ensuring safety remains CBARR's priority to personnel and customers alike.

"It has improved operations and the morale of workers and customers. Before we got this new facelift, people would tell me how depressing it was to walk in here because of the atmosphere. Once we got the money approved for the remodeling, the facility has become much warmer and some people even look forward to coming over here because it's more cheerful," Weeks said

Mask fit testing occurs Tuesday through Thursday. from 7:30 to 11 a.m.