SAN DIEGO, CA — The flying Squad from the USS Boxer squad participated in a pilot program of the Shipboard Firefighting/Damage Control Emergency Team Trainer at the Surface Warfare Officer’s School Learning Site San Diego on March 30.
In most courses, Sailors attend as an individual and are grouped into teams with participants from other ships. However, the new course is designed to allow a specific damage control and firefighting team – such as a Flying Squad or in-port emergency team – to practice their skills as a unit while fighting real fires and flooding in accordance with Afloat Training Group (ATG) grading criteria.
The fire trainer is a realistic interior mock-up of a ship, complete with hatches, scuttles, shipboard equipment, and propane fires that respond realistically to Sailor’s firefighting and damage control techniques. All of it can be engulfed in flames fed by propane tanks, and pipes can feed water to simulate flooding.
“This course gives a ship’s emergency response teams the ability to train like they would fight,” said Joseph Ouellette, the Deputy Director of SWOS Damage Control/Fire Fighting. “We coordinated with the ATG to help modify this course to be a comprehensive team training environment.”
During the day-long course, Sailors from the amphibious assault ship conducted two drill scenarios, which included multiple fires, major flooding, personnel casualties, shoring, and electrical outages.
After completing the drills, the Sailors gave extensive feedback on the program, suggesting changes to make it more realistic and identifying areas they felt needed more focus.
“The team has given us great feedback. They wanted it a little hotter for the second drill so we gave them what they wanted,” said Ouellette. “We wanted to see how effective the training is and how it compares to drills they run on their ship.”
The feedback had an immediate positive impact on the training, as instructors turned up the heat for the second set of drills.
“The main space can get up to 250 degrees (Fahrenheit) before it shuts down,” said Damage Controlman 2nd Class Jeffrey Keel, a firefighting instructor at SWOS. “We’re always right on that borderline so they get as hot as they can in that space. It’s a lot more realistic than just the normal ship training.”
On a ship, Sailors simulate fires with small flags; at the trainer, everything is real.
“It’s a great experience to make sure that the teams actually working together,” said Keel. “They get to feel the pushback from the nozzle, the heat from the fire. Normally they’re just moving the hose around [themselves].”
The Boxer Sailors said that the training was particularly valuable and will help them with their upcoming ATG drills.
“We’re going into our ATG training cycle soon before we deploy,” said Lt. Dave Lamberson, the Damage Control Assistant onboard Boxer. “So this pilot course really gave us a good opportunity to practice these drills and see what we needed to work on.”
For SWOS, the pilot course provides an opportunity to receive critical feedback on the new program, which is planning to be used at all major fleet concentration areas.
“This is a program that we’re planning to take to Norfolk, Mayport, Yokosuka, and the other fleet concentration areas,” said Ouellette. “It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time, and I’m really happy with how the Boxer did and the feedback they gave us.”
These courses allow instructors to safely put students in stressful, yet controlled, environments that simulate realistic battle damage. Intentionally stressing students, putting them through a number of sets and repetitions that build not only muscle memory on proper techniques, but also familiarity and confidence in the gear, and more importantly their capabilities and aptitude to overcome stress and save their ships when imperil. In the end, SWOS doesn’t just operate firefighting and damage control trainers they operate confidence trainers.
In addition to the firefighting pilot, SWOS is implementing upgrades to all spheres of training with the goal of improving safety and readiness of the surface fleet. These actions include: increased ship handling simulator training in moderate to high density traffic scenarios during the Basic and Advanced Division Officer Courses, heavy traffic shiphandling assessments during the Prospective Commanding Officer Course, a brand new Junior Officer of the Deck Course, increased Bridge Resource Management Workshops, more focused leadership lessons at every level of training, and a set of principles of CO Standing Orders and class-standardized RMD procedures.
SWOS readies sea-bound warriors to serve on surface combatants as officers, enlisted engineers and enlisted navigation professionals to fulfill the Navy's mission to maintain global maritime superiority.