When advanced Navy boot camp training began in earnest, our recruiting company was quickly immersed in firefighting techniques, first aid, NBC (nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare), among others. skills required.
We spent two sweltering days in the Southern California heat at Navy Boot Camp in San Diego, learning how to handle fire hoses and putting out a fire aboard a ship with nothing else than water. It was miserable and hot necessary training.
When you’re hundreds of miles out to sea, there’s no fire department to call.
The best equipped ships – aircraft carriers – only have a limited amount of foaming agent and purple K available. Purple K was a dry chemical, very effective on gas and oil fires.
Our training with these was brief and most of our time was spent learning how to use the 3 position nozzle and how to handle the hoses. The onboard pipes were 2 1/2″ in diameter and fitted with a nozzle that emitted three different types of spray: solid, coarse, and mist. The high pressure solid jet was used to blow burning debris off the bridge, break through obstacles, etc. Coarse jet was most effective in cooling hot metal decks, bulkheads, and explosive ordnance. The fog nozzle emitted a high volume, fine mist that could smother most fires in minutes, while providing a protective screen between firefighters and the fire.
There was a tank 20 to 24 feet in diameter filled with diesel fuel. Once the fuel was ignited and a good inferno formed, we practiced pipe handling techniques. These were high pressure hoses and a careless attitude could land you in serious trouble very quickly. In solid jet mode, there was enough pressure that the jet of water, if aimed at the ground, could lift a 200 pound man off the ground. Imagine 135 pounds. me being the buzzard man!
The instructors seemed delighted to have me there. It took a quick hand to slam the nozzle control all the way to the mist position.
Once our instructors were satisfied that we were proficient in handling the hose, we moved on to the firefighting building aboard the ship. It was a three-story structure simulating the decks and compartments of a ship. Each compartment had a diesel fuel tank which could be ignited electrically. Vertical ladders and steep stairs (also called ladders) allowed us to navigate between decks. Partitioned doors separated the different compartments and hatches on the roof of the building added to the realism.
The formation in this structure has become hairy once or twice. One of the drills was designed to teach the correct method of descending from the top into a ship. We were positioned on the roof of the building and at least one diesel tank was on fire on each deck. Thick black smoke poured out and descended on us. It was so dense it was impossible to see more than a foot or two.
As before, I was on the buzzard and had to lead my team up a steep ladder inside, putting out the fires as I went, hoping to find our way to the lower deck and exit through one of the outer doors. .
I don’t know how long we stood there waiting for the signal to come in. It seemed like an hour but it was probably 15 minutes. The heat from the fires was intense and the smoke made it impossible to see and to breathe.
We didn’t have an OBA (oxygen breathing apparatus). Instead, we rolled up the collars of our T-shirts over our mouths and noses and used them as air filters. Finally, the signal was given and we advanced little by little in the thick smoke. I had the mist nozzle full and the cooling mist provided great relief from the heat. There was a second team behind us and they covered us with a refreshing fog.
Finding the ladder down wasn’t difficult. I stamped my foot in front of me until there was nothing left to tap…eureka! We spent almost two hours working our way through this hellhole before being allowed out.
I worked long, hard jobs, but I never felt so exhausted as I did back then. In the two days we were at firefighting school, we did this drill three times, each time just as miserable and hellish as the last. Once school was out, we knew we could do the job when the time came.
It was just one of the many things we were trained to do. We learned to overcome 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 junk goes in the trash can where it belongs. You stand shoulder to shoulder and you only care about one thing: is this soldier (sailor, airman) able to do his job? And that’s the best sign of maturity and social interaction I can think of.