Story from Vern's Blog follower,
Generates a Navy Oiler story.
BROVO ON MY WATCH:
I review shipboard incidents every day. It’s
what I write about. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of material out
there. The other day, something came across my desk. At first, I
thought it someone’s idea of a joke. “Artful,” I said to myself, “There
is no way that this really happened.” It was then I came to the
realization that this paper was no joke . . . this actually happened .
. . and , well I’ll just share this little tidbit with you and you can
blog for yourself. Of course, I left out the names to protect the
guilty. I’m just going to reflect on the high points of the story.
Our story starts on a cruise ship with the third engineer officer on
watch. He was diligently writing in his logbook in the ECR. He glanced
up at the window to the engineroom and noticed flames coming from
between two of the main diesel engines. He followed proper procedure
and informed the bridge to take control of the plant. The second
officer, on the bridge, immediately complied with the request. The
third engineer stopped the engines.
The third engineer then entered the engineroom alone, with a damp cloth
over his face. No, I’m not kidding. He saw the flames earlier, but had
this wild craving to disregard his personal safety and he wanted to get
to know this fire better. He then found his two assistants, and a
motorman, and a wiper (The ship instructions state that you have to
tell everyone personally). Anyway, they all evacuated the engineroom
together. They then woke the chief engineer (Mind you, obviously no
word for a fire has been passed. I know this is a cruise ship, but come
We’re going to skip ahead to some more good stuff. They finally passed
“Code Bravo,” the super secret password for a bravo fire (Get it? “Code
Bravo?”). The crew mustered in the safety room. The air
conditioning engineer was then ordered to close all ventilation to the
engineroom. Ordered? When there’s a bravo fire in a main space, should
mechanical and electrical isolation be part of the scheme of things? I
spent 24 years in the navy and on a side-bar, I must say that I’m very
impressed they have a special engineer for “air conditioning.” I wonder
if there’s a license associated with that?
Anyway, at the same time, a fire entry team is entering the space.
Whether or not mechanical or electrical isolation has been set wasn’t
made clear, nor was it clear if they had permission or a team leader.
All I know is that this hose team is only made up of only two people
wearing breathing apparatus (BA). Now, check this out. After a few
minutes, they found it very hot and withdrew. Really . . . Guess what?
Did you think that bravo fires are only tepid? I’ve fought too many
fires in my day, and I’ve yet to come across a fire that’s comfortable.
Maybe some proper firefighting ensembles would have helped. Maybe they
were wearing those really cool shorts and tee-shirts that Gopher used
to wear on The Love Boat. I digress.
We’re going to skip ahead about eleven minutes later and get to some more
good stuff. Even though there’s still no mention of mechanical and
electrical isolation being set, I’m going to give them the benefit of
the doubt. They do have fire boundaries set (Yey!). The chief engineer
recommends that the fixed CO2 system be utilized. Unfortunately, the
person designated to light this system off can’t be found (Hmmm. Maybe
he’s on the Lido Deck.). Three minutes later, the safety officer and
the chief electrician make their way to the CO2 compartment. Note: The
ship was equipped with a Minimax low fog spray system. This system
sprays an atomized mist of water into the space. This flashes to steam
and smothers the fire. It works so great that the navy is considering
replacing all of their halon fixed systems with this (You remember what
halon is? It’s that stuff that kills the ozone layer and makes everyone
They open the hatch, but the chief electrician is the only one who can
enter. Why? Because the safety officer is “encumbered” by his BA. At
seventeen minutes into the fire, the safety officer confirmed that they
were ready to release CO2 into the affected space. However, the VHF
radio communications between the chief electrician and the chief
engineer were poor, so the electrician was unable to hear any clear
instructions. Shouldn’t you always have a plan for backup
communications? You had a safety officer outside the space. Was there a
phone nearby? Could he relay a message? Obviously not. The chief
electrician couldn’t hear any subsequent instructions from the chief
engineer, so the chief engineer went all the way to the CO2 room (the
clock is ticking.) and ordered the release of CO2 into the engineroom
and the boiler room.
Much to my surprise, the chief electrician didn’t know how to properly
activate the installed CO2 flooding system. Of course he couldn’t tell
anyone this because his radio didn’t work, but God love him, he made
the attempt and reported that CO2 had been released into the engineroom
and the boiler room . . . well, at least he thought it had been
released. In fact, it wasn’t.
Ok, here’s where it gets even better. After a few minutes, the staff
captain briefly entered the engineroom (I’m not kidding.), with a damp
cloth over his face. What’s with this damp-cloth-thing? Is there a
budget crisis on this ship where they’re in short supply of BA’s? I
also thought that once CO2 is released into a main space that doesn’t
have AFFF bilge sprinkling, you have to wait 24 hours prior to entry. I
could be wrong, but I don’t think so. Also, if you really think it’s
necessary to enter a space where the fire hasn’t been deemed out,
wouldn’t it be a good idea to bring a hose team with you instead of
entering the space alone?
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it does. About 10
minutes after the CO2 dump, the chief engineer enters the space (Am I
the only one who’s heard of this 24 hour thing?). At least he’s wearing
a BA, but he’s also alone. Why is he even in there? Well, he wants to
perform an atmospheric test in the space. It’s not bad enough that a
trained hose team has yet to enter the space and declare the fire out,
the chief engineer has an unusual method of atmospheric testing: He
takes off his BA and sniffs! No, I am not making this up. He sniffs
(“OK guys, I’m not dead. Come on in!”). He then orders ventilation
opened up to the space where the fire still hasn’t been declared out by
a hose team (Can you say: “Reflash” That’s a big word.). Almost two
hours later, two fire teams with thermal imaging cameras (flown on
board) finally check out the space and declare the fire officially out
( . . . though it’s not only merely dead, it’s really most sincerely
To add to everything, two weeks previously, the safety officer (who
couldn’t fit down the hatch) scheduled hectic training due to
firefighting deficiencies noted from a previous PSC inspection. Nine
days later, the MCA found them “satisfactory.”
On a final note, the ship was investigated. An investigator and the
chief engineer were in the CO2 compartment. The inspector asked the
chief engineer to explain the system because it appeared to not have
been released. With permission from the chief engineer; the inspector
flips the cylinder release, and guess what? Yup, he dumps CO2 into the
engineroom. But that’s not all: “What else have we got for our
contestant, Johnny?” “Well Artful, we’ve got an engineroom full of
personnel that have to be evacuated before they suffocate and die!”
Ok, maybe I was a little hard on these guys, but guess what? Everybody
lived. Yeah, I was surprised too. I could have been a lot worse. Maybe,
in a few years, these guys will be sitting around the bar, with MaryAnn
and Ginger, laughing and joking about it. Heck, we all make mistakes.
Are there lessons learned? You betcha! If your title has the word
“chief” in it, you should make it your business to know everything
concerning damage control. Damage control training is ongoing. If you
think you know it all, you don’t. Know your systems. Know your
equipment. Know your procedures. Know your people. And, most
importantly: Cross train everyone in everything.
Oh, on a final-final note: the reason the fire started was because some
rocket scientist modified a spray guard on a fuel line for the diesel .
. . ooops!
So, that’s my bedtime story kids. Keep those emails coming. I love to
hear about your incidents. Heck, maybe one day I’ll tell you kiddies
how, when I was a young pup, put a naval warship dead in the water by
lighting farts in the engineroom. Blog this article and tell me what
you think by commenting below. I’m the Artful
Blogger. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it!
Yep, sounds quite believable to me.
GO TO STORIES PAGE
enjoyed my post-Navy time sailing with MSC, where MOST of the folks I
worked with knew their jobs pretty well and acted in a professional
manner. As a result of this professional competence, things ran
really well on a day-to-day basis. The boilers boiled the engines
ran the winches winched and we unrepped like crazy.
But. . .
when there was an emergency or when the unexpected happened the lack of
training and teamwork in dealing with the unusual became really
obvious. In almost every MSC ship I sailed on I witnessed some
piss poor performance in dealing with emergencies. There was no
plan, no practice and communication was always a problem - with the
greatly reduced manning levels on MSC ships you did not have the luxury
of sending the "messenger of the watch" or some other extra person to
go find someone or relay a message.
the worst instance I am aware of happened on the USNS Taluga around
1980. (Before I got there). Taluga was the "duty oiler" in
San Diego. She sailed from the foot of Broadway every Monday
morning, played with the fleet all week of the SOCAL coast and then
went back to the pier every Friday evening.
across the street from this pier at the foot of Broadway was
"Bernie's", a sailor bar that was taken straight from the legendary
waterfront movies of the 1940's and '50's. What a dive, and this
was where you could find a large percentage of Taluga's crew from 1800
Friday night until 0600 Monday morning.
few hours underway on Monday were always exciting, as those that
weren't actually falling down drunk were pretty well hung over and not
Taluga's fire room were the old style burners - straight oil
atomization. No wide-range steam assist burners as was the
fashion on more modern boilers. These burners had a very narrow
"range" of firing rate, and it was a busy time during maneuvering for
the fireman and third assistant engineer, as many changes to larger or
smaller burner tips were necessary as bells were answered. These
burners had two valves that needed to be turned off manually before the
burner was removed, and then turned back on manually after a different
burner was inserted and dogged down in it's holder. There were no
safety interlocks or check valves. Open a valve and oil comes out
under great pressure, whether a burner is in place or not.
you can guess what happened. The fireman, drunk out of his gourd,
pulled a burner while the valves were still open, oil sprayed all over
the fire room, the fireman and the third assistant (a young female
King's Point grad on her first ship). A conflagration ensued,
they both died and the fire raged for hours. It could have
been put out in seconds by simply tripping off the electric fuel oil
service pump at the main switchboard located in the engine room (a
totally separate space). But instead the gallant crew wanted to
keep the lights on and steam up so as not to inhibit the firefighting
efforts. No one had ever practiced this, talked about or planned
for such an eventuality - even though errors in handling burners had
happened several times in the past , but miraculously without a fire!
By the time
the fire was out the damage ran into the millions, Taluga required a
lengthly overhaul (It was nip and tuck on the decision to simply scrap
her, but they kept her around for another 4 years). By the time
that the dying fireman was helo-evacked off the ship and to Balboa
(some 5 hours after sailing) his blood alcohol level was still way
above .2 !
who coulda' seen this coming?
wishes, Lary Harris