13 Comments
Jul 5, 2022Liked by CDR Salamander

Ugh, "she's in avail, it's not my problem" Is such a disgusting and debilitating mindset. The cost and schedule impacts to ship modernization that are downstream of this thought process are stunning.

Expand full comment

Knocked it out of the park, my friend!

Expand full comment
Jul 5, 2022Liked by CDR Salamander

The commentary harkening back to what the Navy was, interlaced with the story, makes this a magnificent piece. One that mostly us old guys understand. Not coverered is why the Ship's CO did not stay on the ship and fight the fire with every bit of his strength.

Expand full comment

Right On! What happened to my Navy? I no longer recognize it today. Collisions where no one EVER SOUNDED COLLISION! Suicides on a command that is in the yards? Leadership? Moral & Ethical Activity?! Responsible? Proactive? How about just . . . Patriotic?! ALL . . . MISSING IN ACTION! Eagle Scouts these folks are NOT!

Expand full comment
Jul 5, 2022Liked by CDR Salamander

In the Spring of 1984 USS Fulton (AS 11) experienced a switchboard short circuit during shipyard testing near the end of overhaul at Quincy Shipbuilding. The fire started at exactly 0800, as the crew was leaving morning quarters. The entire Aft Engineroom was engulfed; I was Battle Stations EOOW, temporarily repositioned to DC Central during the fire because Main Control was engulfed in flames.

It took us 3 days to completely extinguish the fire. The Boston USCG helped by providing extra OBA cannisters. The shipyard and Quincy Fire Departments supported us by pressurizing the Fire Main from shore until we could restart our own Fire Pumps. Otherwise, the crew stood tall and saved our then 45-year-old ship.

We avoided adjacent compartment fires in the Boiler Room, the Radcon Support Facility, Fuel Oil Service Tanks and Supply Department Storerooms - though the deck tile in DC Central (directly above the Aft Engineroom) had to be replaced.

Our shipyard departure was delayed, but REFTRA at GITMO and Deployment to the Med occurred several months later - on our original schedule.

With this background - having our ship's crew unquestionably take the lead and beat the fire that could easily have ended our ship's service - I have been absolutely flabbergasted ever since the BHR fire started. Reading Megan's story this morning simply made me angry. When did Command stop meaning something???

Expand full comment

Obviously nobody in command took...well...command! Except Brown who was trying like hell. Everyone who was contacted should have said "I've got it" and owned that situation. But they crawfished because they didn't want responsibility. Now, I will also go to the yard crews and watch because the fire suppression systems had been disabled and they had created what anyone in any shop in the country would recognize as a fire waiting to happen with all those rags, potential accelerants, etc. - even WITHOUT a culpable arsonist, it was a fire waiting to happen. They apparently were not participating (!) in drills and training for firefighting and weren't up to snuff. The first three things for a ship's crew to keep the ship on top of the water: the ability to fight the ship, the ability to maintain the ship, and damage control.

The fire extinguishers hadn't even been serviced, if I remember the report and the crew didn't know how to use the AFFF system. It does seem, however, that without conflicts and with the CO pushing, at the least, they could have gotten a unified team in there with proper equipment in time to prevent the fire from spreading outside the Lower V.

Expand full comment

It surprises me this hasn’t happened more times. The priorities are obvious, be a paper pusher in the background somewhere. Network for promotions, network for that VP retirement job. Embrace the latest buzz words, make your soon to be forgotten mark on the navy. Why would anyone in a sea service want to make waves.

Expand full comment

Excellent column. Even from this JO's perspective, the Navy's chain of command had failed even before I retired at the end of 1989. Too much butt-covering, too much self-aggrandizement, too much empire-building, and too little actual leadership.

Expand full comment

Sal,

First, concerning the term "Bridge Line," I'm 99% sure that they are referring to a Phone Bridge, that is to say a conference call. I recall it being a standard practice for major in-port incident responses during my submarine officer days. During Rx accident drills we had several of those going with various supporting agencies and organizations, the idea being that if something was needed there was a human monitoring the situation who could be tapped to provide that support in a timely manner.

Second, I had the fortune of being a DH on the first boat to enter the yards in Kittery after the MIAMI burned down. The dramatic step-increase in the focus on firefighting while in the yards was an incredible thing to behold...temporary smoke/heat sensors on the boat that could be no further than 6' from each other, multiple CONEX boxes full of gear (FFEs, SCBAs, etc), and routine mass drills that lasted AT LEAST 3 hours and included participation from the base firefighters and civilian fire departments. Our C2 when it came to casualty response was not only clearly laid out, it was stress-tested and exercised. Portsmouth NSY had definitely found religion when it came to fighting fires, and that was in 2014.

When I lat-transferred and wound up on an LHD in the yards in 2018, the difference in attitude/focus was noticeable. We did duty section drills, sure, but these were only Inport Emergency Team (IET) drills. I don't recall any mass conflagration drills of the kind that I experienced when I was in Kittery. I also didn't see the same detection and equipment lay-down that I saw during my SSN's overhaul. In the wake of the BHR fire, my first thought was "but for the grace of God..."

I would like to think that had I been the duty officer on BHR the morning the fire broke out, my response would have been different and more effective. Honestly, though, I just don't know. Culture plays a big role, and right now there is a certain attitude element at work for crews of ships in the yards: "I'm going to take what I can now, because the Navy is going to take the rest later." Especially for CVNs and LHD/LHAs, they are basically locked into a cycle of 1-2 years in the yards, followed by a year and half of workups and deployment. That means that family trips, long leave periods, schools, etc are all crammed into the overhaul time, because the ship is likely to be underway for 300+ days out of the 500 or so immediately following the yard period. That means there is pressure to keep as few people onboard during the yards as possible, which is how you get things like 8-section duty with about 100 people for the entire LHD.

Now, I have heard that this is changing, and that duty sections for most surface ships have been collapsed in the wake of the BHR disaster. That of course brings its own challenges for retention and morale, but is probably a necessary step for preventing needless ship losses in an era when we can NOT afford them (both financially and operationally).

Expand full comment

Where have USNA grads been for the last 30 years. If We take onboard the idea that the Navy does not learn then our (Navy’s) decisions and actions would be better.

Expand full comment

CDR Salamander, your observations are very inciteful. I looked up other instances of scapegoating and came upon the case of Captain McVay III from the USS Indianapolis. This line from wikipedia is rather damming of the institution. "McVay was wounded but survived, and was among those rescued. He repeatedly asked the Navy why it took four days to rescue his men but never received an answer. The Navy long claimed that SOS messages were never received because the ship was operating under a policy of radio silence; declassified records show that three SOS messages were received separately, but none were acted upon because one commander was drunk, another thought it was a Japanese ruse, and the third had given orders not to be disturbed."

Expand full comment

This is one of those takes that a guy like me finds it very to disagree with 👍.

Expand full comment