Damage control training begins in Boot Camp, and continues throughout every Sailor’s career. Training fire parties and damage control teams on ships must be done before a ship is certified as ready to deploy. Team training is conducted at various locations throughout the fleet, and certification is accomplished by the Afloat Training Groups (ATGs), located at fleet concentration area.
The Surface Warfare Officers School Firefighting and Damage Control Learning Site in Yokosuka, Japan, offers realistic training for teams responding to flight deck and engineering fires, as well as flooding and dewatering.
The aviation firefighting scenarios simulate helicopter and ordnance fires. Unlike other trainers that relay on propane for the fire, actual flames are generated here using JP8 jet fuel. “It’s hotter, and the smoke is more like they will encounter on the ship,” says DCCM (SW/AW) Ramil Valdez, the officer in charge. “We’re the only firefighting trainer in the U.S. Navy still using liquid fossil fuel.”
The team trainers are used by surface ships and the Yokosuka-based carrier, USS Ronald Reagan. “We also have teams come down from Atsugi. We’ll send trainers to Sasebo to train our crews based there, using the JMSDF trainer there,” says Valdez. “We also support the Marines in Okinawa.”
“We have 17 high risk instructors,” says ABHC (AW/SW) Kenji Kimura. He’s referring to individuals who are certified to conduct the training involving the “wet” trainers or actual fire, which are potentially dangerous scenarios.
Lopez says most ships rise to the occasion. “We tell them what we want to see when we inspect. There are no surprises.”
According to Kimura, the facility is used to train the base fire department’s firefighters in how to deal with fires aboard ship.
Valdez says his trainers work with the JMSDF counterparts, and have trained JMSDF crews, as well as hosting trainers from the ROKN as observers. “The Japanese teams are very professional. They do things a little bit differently, particularly how they measure and cut their shoring, while we use pre-cut shoring,” Valdez says.
The trainers are busy. “We’re booked up for FY 2017 already. We’re starting to schedule FY 2018,” says Kimura.
The maximum number of participants for basic firefighting is 30, while the aviation fire training can handle 40 students.
Training is conducted four days a week, with one day for maintenance. “We have a Japanese contractor to maintain and operate the system, and conduct an annual overhaul. They do a great job,” says Valdez.
Responding to ordnance fires can be tailored to the weapons likely to be involved on a particular ship or platform. “We use the cook-off times in the NATOPS manual for the specific ordnance.”
The DC wet trainer is referred to as the Buttercup. Kimura says the instructor will first explain the procedures, then show students how it’s done. The gear is stowed, then the problem begins. Numerous leaks in the valves and piping must be addressed, and the space must be dewatered. Investigators must enter the space, then return to report their findings. Then the team enters the space. “It will fill up in 15 minutes,” Kimura says.
A highly proficient team can stop the leaks, install the shoring and start dewatering the space before the water reaches their knees, Kimura says.
The final part of the problem is evacuating the space. The students must climb up a ladder and through an escape hatch while water is pouring down through the hatch.
After the drill, the students return to the classroom for a debriefing. “The biggest problem we usually see is communications,” says Valdez.