Navy probe finds major flaws in fire that destroyed ship

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WASHINGTON – A Navy report concluded there had been sweeping failures by commanders, crew and others that fueled the July 2020 arson that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard, calling the massive five-day fire in San Diego preventable and unacceptable.

As a sailor was accused of setting the fire, the more than 400 page report, obtained by the Associated Press, lists three dozen officers and sailors whose failures directly led to the loss of the vessel or contributed to it. The results detailed widespread deficiencies in training, coordination, communication, fire preparedness, equipment maintenance, and overall command and control.

“Although the fire was started by arson, the ship was lost due to an inability to extinguish the fire,” the report said, concluding that “repeated failures” by “insufficiently prepared crew” provided “an ineffective fire response.”

He criticized the commanders of the amphibious assault ship for poor surveillance and said the main fire fighting foam system had not been used because it had not been properly maintained and the crew did not know how to l ‘use.

The report describes a ship in disarray, with combustible materials piled up, scattered and poorly stored. He said maintenance reports were falsified and 87% of the fire stations on board had equipment problems or had not been inspected.

He also found that crew members had not rung the bells and alerted sailors that there was a fire for up to 10 minutes after its discovery. These crucial minutes, the report said, resulted in delays in setting up firefighting equipment, assembling hose crews and responding to the fire.

The sailors also failed to press the button that would have activated the fire fighting foam system, even though it was accessible and could have slowed the progress of the fire. “None of the crew interviewed considered this action or had specific knowledge of the location of the button or its function,” the report said.

The report blames a wide range of ranks and responsibilities, from the retired three-star admiral who led the Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet – Vice-Admiral Richard Brown – to senior commanders, deputy officers, lieutenants and managers of civilian programs. A total of 17 were cited for failures which “directly” led to the loss of the vessel, while 17 others “contributed” to the loss of the vessel. Two other sailors were blamed for not effectively assisting the fire response.

Admiral William Lescher, the vice chief of naval operations, has appointed the commander of the US Pacific fleet to handle any disciplinary action against the military. It is not clear whether some have ever been relieved of their command or removed from their posts as a result of the fire.

But the report says of Brown’s failures; Rear Adm. Scott Brown, Fleet Maintenance Officer for the Pacific Fleet; Rear Adm. William Greene, the Fleet Maintenance Officer for US Fleet Forces Command; Back. Adm. Eric Ver Hage, commander of the regional maintenance center; Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander of the southwestern region of the Navy; Captain Mark Nieswiadomy, commander of Naval Base San Diego; and Captain Tony Rodriguez, commander of Amphibious Squadron 5, all “contributed to the loss of the ship”.

The report also specifically accuses the ship’s three senior officers – Captain Gregory Thoroman, the commanding officer; Captain Michael Ray, the executive officer; and Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez – for failing to effectively ensure the readiness and condition of the ship.

“The performance of his duties created an environment of poor training, maintenance and operational standards which directly led to the loss of the vessel,” the report said of Thoroman. And it is said that Ray, Hernandez and Captain David Hart, commander of the Southwest Regional Maintenance Center, also failed in his responsibilities, which directly led to the loss of the vessel.

The report only provides the names of senior naval officers. Others were described only by function or rank.

More generally, the crew was criticized for “a failed exercise pattern, minimal crew participation, lack of basic firefighting knowledge” and an inability to coordinate with civilian firefighters.

The ship was undergoing a $ 250 million two-year upgrade in San Diego when the fire broke out. About 138 sailors were on board and nearly 60 were treated for heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and minor injuries. Failure to extinguish or contain the fire led to temperatures exceeding 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas, melting sections of the ship into molten metal that flowed into other parts of the ship.

Due to the damage, the Navy decommissioned the ship in April. In August, apprentice sailor Ryan Mays was charged with aggravated arson and willfully endangering a ship. He denied having set it on fire.

The fire started in the lower storage area, to which Mays’ duty station had access, according to a court document. Investigators found that three of the ship’s four fire stations had evidence of tampering, including disconnected fire hoses, and a highly flammable liquid was found near the ignition site.

Efforts to extinguish the fire were hampered because the ship’s crew and other outside fire response services and organizations were uncoordinated, could not communicate effectively, did not work together. trained together and were not well trained, according to the report.

The report was submitted by Vice Admiral Scott Conn to Lescher, who approved a number of recommended changes and improvements. The Navy has implemented a new fire safety assessment program that performs random inspections and has taken steps to increase training.

In addition, the Navy conducted a historical study of Navy ship fires. He found recurring trends associated with 15 shipboard fires over 12 years, including non-compliance with fire prevention, detection and response policies. As a result, Navy officials took further steps to increase security.


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