The High Endurance Life: Full Throttle Practice

Senior Chief Petty Officer John Franco, a machinery technician aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, provides instruction to Chief Petty Officer Fernando Ocon, a damage controlman aboard the Morgenthau, during basic engineering casualty control exercises in the cutter's engine room while underway in the Pacific Ocean May 3, 2014. BECCEs give crew members a chance to practice combating machinery malfunctions to prepare for actual casualties. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Senior Chief Petty Officer John Franco, a machinery technician aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, provides instruction to Chief Petty Officer Fernando Ocon, a damage controlman aboard the Morgenthau, during basic engineering casualty control exercises in the cutter’s engine room while underway in the Pacific Ocean May 3, 2014. BECCEs give crew members a chance to practice combating machinery malfunctions to prepare for actual casualties. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Just below the main deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau the thunder of the engineroom can be heard. The roaring machinery, two main gas turbines and two generators, move the cutter through the water and provide power to the entire ship. Often at sea for weeks at a time, running constantly, it takes an expert team to maintain the complex heart of the vessel. Joining that team is not taken lightly.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ronald Schnackenberg, a damage controlman aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, responds to a simulated emergency during basic engineering casualty control exercises in the cutter's engine room while underway in the Pacific Ocean May 3, 2014. Schnackenberg participated in the exercise as part of his throttleman qualification, an engineering position that oversees the cutter's propulsion. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ronald Schnackenberg, a damage controlman aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, responds to a simulated emergency during basic engineering casualty control exercises in the cutter’s engine room while underway in the Pacific Ocean May 3, 2014. Schnackenberg participated in the exercise as part of his throttleman qualification, an engineering position that oversees the cutter’s propulsion. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

On May 3 while underway in the Pacific Ocean, the Morgenthau engineering department held basic engineer casualty control exercises, or BECCEs. Three crewmembers working to qualify in new watch positions gathered in main control, the brain to the engineroom’s muscle. In the small, well-lit room the supervisors for the casualty control exercise provided a safety brief for the watch break-ins, letting them know which of the countless knobs, switches and buttons were actually in play, and how to simulate specific emergency response actions, such as discharging fire extinguishers.“BECCEs are standard responses to emergency situations,” said Senior Chief John Franco, a machinery technician who oversees preventative and corrective maintenance in the Morgenthau’s engineroom. “It enables us to minimize damage to the vessel, to quickly effect repairs and restore ourselves to fully mission capablity.”The crewmembers under review for the exercise took over the watch positions that they were working to qualify in, and began standing the watch like they would on any normal day. It wasn’t long before their test began: one of the supervisors sounded a simulated an alarm. What are the watchstanders going to do?

There are four positions that man the engineroom 24 hours a day: the engineer of the watch, who oversees all the other engineering positions and relays information to the conning officer on the bridge; the throttleman, who answers the bridge’s requests for propulsion, controlling the combined 36,000 horsepower of the main gas turbines; the machinery watchstander, who makes regular rounds of the engineroom and is the first to respond to a casualty on any of the equipment; and the security watchstander, the EOW’s eyes and ears outside the engineroom.

“It’s all teamwork,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Ronald Schnackenberg, a damage controlman aboard the Morgenthau who is currently working toward a throttleman qualification. “If we don’t communicate and tell each other what is going on, we won’t be able to correct the casualty.”

As the emergency scenarios developed, communicate is exactly what the crew did. Under the watchful eyes and measured instruction of four qualified personnel, the break-ins made it through three scenarios with only minor errors. The final scenario even included a simulated fire on one of the generators, which is no joke on a cutter loaded with fuel, hundreds of miles from the nearest port. The team responded expertly.

“They have to respond in accordance with the casualty control manual,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Della Morgan, a machinery technician aboard the Morgenthau, and one of the engineroom supervisors during BECCEs. “We’re there to make sure they don’t get hurt and no equipment gets damaged.”

Petty Officers 2nd Class Michael Fillipone and Ronald Schnackenberg, both damage controlmen aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, use a fire hose to combat a simulated generator fire during basic engineering casualty control exercises in the cutter's engine room while underway in the Pacific Ocean May 3, 2014. Watchstanders practice responding to fires to prepare themselves for an actual emergency. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Petty Officers 2nd Class Michael Fillipone and Ronald Schnackenberg, both damage controlmen aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, use a fire hose to combat a simulated generator fire during basic engineering casualty control exercises in the cutter’s engine room while underway in the Pacific Ocean May 3, 2014. Watchstanders practice responding to fires to prepare themselves for an actual emergency. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Completing the scenarios brought the crew one step closer to their desired watch positions, including a new qualification as throttleman for Schnackenberg. Even as they finish the process, the training never ends. Proficiency is built through frequent drills and revisiting emergency response measures.“All of our watchstanders are responsible for minimizing damage,” said Franco. “BECCEs affords us the ability to practice and to react properly in a real situation.”Without propulsion or power, the vital law enforcement and search and rescue missions that the crew of the Morgenthau performs cannot happen. Despite preventative measures, the harsh maritime environment and demanding operational schedule will inevitably cause something to go wrong in the intricate engineroom. And when that happens, the Morgenthau’s engineering department will be ready.

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