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Fighting Fire

My Navy boot company spent 2 days sweating in Southern California heat learning to handle fire hoses and how to put out shipboard fires with nothing but water. In 1967 the Western U.S. Navy Boot Camp was located at San Diego. It was hot and miserable but necessary training.

Most of our training was on the use of the 3-position nozzle and the handling of fire hoses. We used a nozzle that could put out different streams: solid stream, coarse spray and fog. The high pressure solid stream was used to blast burning debris off the deck. The coarse spray was most effective in cooling hot metal decks, bulkheads and flammable 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 for the firefighters.

A large tank filled with diesel fuel would be ignited and a ferocious hot blaze built up, then we practiced hose handling techniques. We used high pressure hoses and a careless attitude could land you in trouble real fast. In solid stream mode there was enough power that the stream of water directed towards the ground could lift a 200 lb. man into the air. Imagine 135 lb. me being the nozzle man! The instructors seemed to delight in having me on the nozzle. It took a quick hand to slam the nozzle control all the way forward to the fog position.

After learning hose handling we moved to the shipboard fire fighting building. This was a 3-story high concrete and steel structure simulating the decks and compartments found on a ship. Each compartment had a tank of diesel that could be remotely ignited. Ladders and steep stairs enabled us to navigate between decks. Bulkhead doors separated the various compartments, and hatches on the roof added to the realism.

Training got hairy a time or two. One of the exercises was designed to teach us the proper method of descending from topside down into the interior of a ship. We were positioned on the roof of the training building and the diesel inside the "ship" was ignited. Dense black smoke poured out and descended down on top of us. It was impossible to see more than a a foot or two. 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 hours but was probably less than 5 minutes. Heat from the fires were intense. The smoke made sight impossible and breathing difficult. We did not have OBAs (oxygen breathing apparatus). We pulled 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 began inching our way forward through the dense smoke. I had the fog nozzle full on and the cooling mist provided some relief from the heat. There was a second team behind us and they were covering the five men on the hose behind me 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 2 hours fighting our way down and through that inferno before we were allowed to exit. Adding to the realism of the experience fires that we'd extinguished would be ignited again a few minutes after we'd put them out and we had to back up and put it out once more. I've worked some long hard jobs, but I don't think I've ever felt as exhausted as I did after that bit of training. In the 2 days we spent at fire fighting school we performed this exercise 3 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.

It is too bad that more young men and women do not avail themselves of military training. The training is more than learning to kill. You learn to handle the unexpected, the dangerous, and the difficult things of life – and do it in a constructive manner. You still have fears but you learn how to subdue them. In some ways I wish the draft was still in use. Then we would not have so many milksops running around in fear of their own shadows. Then again, it is beginning to look bad for our military with all the nonsense the men and women are forced to deal with that has absolutely nothing to do with defending each other and the nation. Good Lord help us!


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