Firefighting at sea

The goal is for each cadet to leave the Eagle with their basic damage control qualification, a qualification that will follow them throughout their career, saving time and potentially saving lives. “Early in their careers they may have to coordinate and direct the efforts to fight a fire,” said Chief Petty Officer Max Hermes, and his crew is working hard to prepare all of the cadets for the future.

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Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Pam Boehland

Coast Guard Academy cadets learn firefighting and damage control principles during their summer training program aboard Coast Guard Barque Eagle, the Academy's training ship. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Pam Boehland.
Coast Guard Academy cadets learn firefighting and damage control principles during their summer training program aboard Coast Guard Barque Eagle, the Academy’s training ship. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Pam Boehland.

On the weather deck of Coast Guard Barque Eagle, Chief Petty Officer Max Hermes stands in front of a group of 15 Coast Guard Academy cadets and explains the handling of various fire extinguishers. Simultaneously, Petty Officer John Cornelius is on the waist of the cutter, teaching the fundamentals of fire fighting and hose handling. Additionally, two other damage controlmen, Petty Officer James Charle and Petty Officer Rob Doerr guide cadets through the steps to maneuver a charged fire hose up and down the cutter’s ladders.

Classroom instruction combined with hands-on experience is what the damage control program aboard Eagle is all about. This recently revamped education is considered by Hermes, the damage control training team leader, to be one of the most comprehensive training plans offered for fire and flooding control outside of the damage control A-school.

The training team is comprised of Hermes and three other temporary duty damage controlmen. They are spending four hours a day, five days a week and four weeks per training phase to train the more than 120 cadets. The cadets are learning how to shore or reinforce a bulkhead, control a flood and put out a fire. For most 3/c cadets who just finished their first year at the Academy, this is their first time handling and working with damage control equipment.

“I usually have a hard time staying awake during training, but the DC’s make it fun,” said Annabelle Gagnon, a 3/c cadet from Baltimore. She called the damage control training very engaging.

Coast Guard Academy cadets prepare for firefighting training during their summer training program aboard Coast Guard Barque Eagle, the Academy's training ship. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Pam Boehland.
Coast Guard Academy cadets prepare for firefighting training during their summer training program aboard Coast Guard Barque Eagle, the Academy’s training ship. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Pam Boehland.

Some lessons are held on the mess deck and some are very physical. Some classes are held during the work day and others go late, until taps at 10 p.m. Early on cadets learn the basics of firefighting, plugging, how to cautiously open doors in the event of a flood, and safety. However, each week builds on the next and gets progressively harder, leading up to a flooding simulation and a fire drill. During the firefighting drill cadets suit up, wear a mask and air tank, put on firefighter’s boots, and venture through smoke, produced by a machine, to put out a simulated blaze.

Gabrielle Auzenberg, a 3/c cadet from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, said she is looking forward to the wet-trainer drill the most. For that the instructors hook up a small metal box, about the size of a large shoe box, with holes and gashes in it, to a hose to simulate a breached hull. The cadets again don their protective clothes and attempt to stop the flooding.

“Plugging a hole, I think that would be cool,” said Auzenberg.

In addition to the training, at the end of the phase, the cadets will take a 100 question multi-choice test with questions that are both Eagle specific, such as the locations of various damage control equipment, and general knowledge, such as best fire and flooding practices.

Coast Guard Academy cadets work to plug a simulated hole during their summer training program aboard Coast Guard Barque Eagle, the Academy's training ship. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Pam Boehland.
Coast Guard Academy cadets work to plug a simulated hole during their summer training program aboard Coast Guard Barque Eagle, the Academy’s training ship. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Pam Boehland.

The goal is for each cadet to leave the Eagle with their basic damage control qualification, a qualification that will follow them throughout their career, saving time and potentially saving lives.

“Early in their careers they may have to coordinate and direct the efforts to fight a fire,” said Hermes, and his crew is working hard to prepare all of the cadets for the future.

The training aboard the Eagle is constant and extensive. Cadets have to manage damage control training with other curriculum they are receiving underway. That includes finding time to study for the final test, attending classes on the mess deck, learning seamanship, working sail stations, and participating in mentoring sessions. Balancing it all and retaining all of the knowledge learned aboard the Eagle can be difficult. However, Hermes thinks they are ready for it.

“The cadets are really knowledge oriented,” said Hermes. “They really want to learn, and they are interested in what you have to say.”

“I think it is really helpful getting our feet wet,” said 3/c cadet Alex Murdoch from San Ramon, California. “It is a really good foundation.”

Hermes is a 15 year veteran of the Coast Guard and is permanently assigned to Sector Ohio Valley in Louisville, Kentucky. He says he gets great satisfaction out of teaching. For him, it’s about seeing the knowledge click, when their eyes light up and they understand what he is teaching.

“I’ll see them in the fleet someday,” he said. “And they are going to remember the lessons we taught them.”

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