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By Mike Sunderland
Thoughts from a Grey-Haired Point of View 

Advanced Training

 

March 23, 2022 | View PDF

When advanced Navy boot camp training commenced in earnest our recruit company was quickly immersed in fire fighting techniques, first aid, NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical warfare), among other necessary skills.

We spent two sweltering days in Southern California heat at the San Diego Navy boot camp learning to handle fire hoses and how to put out a shipboard fire with nothing but water. It was hot miserable necessary training.

When you are 100s of miles out to sea there are no fire departments to call.

The most well equipped ships – aircraft carriers – have only so much foaming agent, and purple K available. Purple K was a dry chemical, very effective on gas and oil fires.

Our training with those was brief and most of our time was devoted to learning the use of the 3-position nozzle and hose handling. Shipboard hoses were 2-1/2” diameter and equipped with a nozzle that put out three different types of streams: solid, coarse spray and fog. The high-pressure solid stream was used to blast burning debris off the deck, punch through obstacles, etc. The coarse spray was most effective in cooling hot metal decks, bulkheads and explosive ordinance. The fog nozzle put out a high volume fine mist that could suffocate most fires in a matter of minutes, while providing a protective screen between the firefighters and the blaze.

There was a 20-24 ft. diameter tank filled with diesel fuel. Once the fuel was ignited and a good blaze built up, we practiced hose handling techniques. These were high-pressure hoses and a careless attitude could land you in serious trouble real fast. In solid stream mode there was enough pressure that the stream of water, if directed towards the ground, could lift a 200 lb. man off the ground. Imagine 135 lb. me being the nozzle man!

The instructors seemed to delight in having me there. It took a quick hand to slam the nozzle control all the way forward to the fog position.

Once our instructors were satisfied that we were proficient in handling the hose we graduated to the shipboard fire fighting building. This was a three story structure simulating the decks and compartments of a ship. Each compartment had a tank of diesel fuel that could be electrically ignited. Vertical ladders and steep stairs (also called ladders) enabled us to navigate between decks. Bulkhead doors separated the various compartments, and hatches on the roof of the building added to the realism.

Training in this structure got hairy a time or two. One of the exercises was designed to teach the proper method of descending from topside into the interior of a ship. We were positioned on the roof of the building and at least one tank of diesel was ignited on each deck. Dense black smoke poured out and descended down on top of us. It was so dense it was impossible to see more than a foot or two.

As before I was on the nozzle and would have to lead my team down a steep ladder into the interior, putting out fires as we went, hoping to find our way to the bottom deck and out one of the exterior doors.

I don’t know how long we stood there waiting for the signal to go in. It seemed like an hour but was probably 15 minutes. Heat from the fires was intense and the smoke made sight impossible and breathing difficult.

We did not have OBAs (oxygen breathing apparatus). Instead we pulled up the necks of our T-shirts over our mouths and noses and used them as air filters. At last the signal was given and we inched our way forward through the dense smoke. I had the fog nozzle full on and the cooling mist provided a great relief from the heat. There was a second team behind us and they were covering us with a cooling fog.

Finding the ladder down was not difficult. I tapped my foot in front of me until there was nothing to tap... eureka! We spent almost two hours fighting our way down and through that inferno before we were allowed to exit.

I’ve worked some long, hard jobs, but I’ve never felt as exhausted as I did then. In the two days we spent at the fire fighting school we performed this exercise three times, each time just as miserable and hellish as the one before. When the school was over we knew we could do the job when the time came.

This was only one of the many things we were trained to do. We learned to conquer fear and do what needed to be done. The only “social” training we received was to salute officers and work as a team with each other regardless of race, or any other consideration.

When your life depends on the man next to you all that social garbage goes into the trash bin where it belongs. You stand shoulder-to-shoulder and only care about one thing: is that soldier (sailor, airman) able to do his/her job? And that is the best sign of maturity and social interaction I can think of.

 

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