Fighting fire, breaking ice

 

Petty Officer 3rd Class Danielle Stevens, a machinery technician aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, checks for hot spots in the icebreaker’s engine room after extinguishing a simulated fire during a drill in the Gulf of Alaska Sept. 18, 2013. Fire team members don all the equipment they would use during an actual fire response for the purpose of practicing under realistic circumstances. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Danielle Stevens, a machinery technician aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, checks for hot spots in the icebreaker’s engine room after extinguishing a simulated fire during a drill in the Gulf of Alaska Sept. 18, 2013. Fire team members don all the equipment they would use during an actual fire response for the purpose of practicing under realistic circumstances. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

“Now, the Coast Guard Cutter Healy has entered a training environment,” boomed a disembodied voice over the intercom system. “All events will be drills unless otherwise stated.”

That’s the only hint the crew needed. They were poised for something; they just didn’t know what, exactly.

A simulated disaster strikes a half hour later, and it isn’t just some grease fire in the galley.  This is a full-blown engine room fire simulation. 

Throughout the cutter, teams donned their firefighting gear and self-contained breathing apparatuses. Here a storekeeper, there a machinery technician and over in the corner a boatswain’s mate, each and every one transformed into just as real a firefighter as any you have ever seen.

The Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a 420-foot, Seattle-based icebreaker, can travel as far as the North Pole. If fire or flooding breaks out in the isolated Arctic Ocean, it’s up to the crew to respond. 

Petty Officer 3rd Class Danielle Stevens, a machinery technician aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, takes off her fire fighting ensemble and prepares it for its next use after a fire drill on the cutter in the Gulf of Alaska Sept. 18, 2013. Fire fighting gear is rigorously maintained to ensure it is ready for use during an actual emergency. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Danielle Stevens, a machinery technician aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, takes off her fire fighting ensemble and prepares it for its next use after a fire drill on the cutter in the Gulf of Alaska Sept. 18, 2013. Fire fighting gear is rigorously maintained to ensure it is ready for use during an actual emergency. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Ten minutes into the drill and a very controlled chaos filled the cutter’s gym, the designated repair party staging area. Some personnel ensured everyone was present and others gathered their gear and headed out to determine the source of the problem, a plotter, who tracks the spread of damage during an emergency, broke out a diagram of the cutter and began taking down information. The firefighting team members put on their gear to prepare for combating the fire. 

As the first group of crewmembers prepares to respond to the reported fire, one person checks to ensure zippers are zipped and seals are sealed. This is one of many responsibilities during an emergency for Petty Officer 3rd Class Danielle Stevens, who normally works in the Healy’s auxiliary division as a machinery technician.

“I am the attack team leader for fire team one, the first team to respond to fire and flooding,” said Stevens. “My primary jobs are to make sure everyone is suited up correctly and to maintain communication with the on-scene leader, as well as a basic knowledge of how to combat the situation.”

Stevens led her team into the space with the simulated fire and began the systematic process of extinguishing and locating hot spots. After that was done, a team specializing in working around the high voltage systems in the engine room took over to finish up the drill.

Once the crew stowed props and fire fighting equipment, all available hands gathered on the messdeck, or dining area, for a debrief. Everyone was told what went right or wrong with the drill, so the entire crew has a better understanding of how to handle a similar, real-life situation.

“Everyone from the Captain down to a seaman apprentice has to know the basics of damage control,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Dufresne, the Healy’s assistant engineer officer. “You may be the only person around when an emergency happens, and the initial response is the most important part.”

The necessity of practicing techniques and expanding knowledge is not lost on the crew despite the soaring temperatures and heavy gear associated with exercises like the fire drill.

“We’re the only ones out here,” said Stevens. “This is our ship. This is our home.”

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