May 24th, 2012

submarine insignia, dolphins

Fire in the Ship's Office!

Or perhaps the Goat Locker. Or, at least, somewhere in the forward compartment of the USS Miami (SSN 755) - which, fortunately, was (and is) undergoing an overhaul at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. From an official statement released by RADM Rick Breckenridge, Commander Submarine Group TWO:
Late yesterday afternoon, USS MIAMI experienced a fire in the submarine's forward compartment.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Fire Department and Ship's force, along with mutual assistance from several other area fire departments, immediately responded and successfully extinguished the fire on USS MIAMI. I repeat, the fire is out.

The fire and subsequent damage was limited to the forward compartment spaces only which includes crew living and command and control spaces. The nuclear propulsion spaces were physically isolated from the Forward Compartment early during initial response.

The Portland Press-Herald reported further comments from RADM Breckenridge:
He said it was premature to say whether the Miami, which cost $900 million, was salvageable or is too badly damaged to be repaired and put back in use. The Miami is in the third month of a planned 20-month overhaul.

Seven firefighters received minor injuries while fighting the fire.

Breckenridge praised the repsonse of firefighters from communities in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts that responded to the blaze.

"As I stand before you today, there are a lot of heroes who worked together to save the ship," Breckenridge said. He said local firefighters worked inside the submarine in conditions of high heat, smoke and cramped quarters.

[ ... ]

Breckenridge said the high heat and difficulty extinguishing the fire, was largely because the fire spread to insulation. The fire also was fueled by cabinets and lockers in the living quarters and command area.
Nobody was killed - that, to me, is the most important point. And, as RADM Breckenridge points out, there's no nuclear risk involved.

It's way too early to speculate on what exactly went wrong, although my immediate assumption is that somebody screwed up badly while grinding or welding. Any sort of "hot work" is supposed to include preplanning, covering all exposed and potentially flammable areas, and dedicated fire watches with full charged extinguishers to stop any sparks that do escape from doing any damage. Back on the old Ustafish, during our time at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, one of the shipyard grinders managed to ignite some oily rags that had fallen into the bilge - the fire watch had that out in about ten seconds. (Just how the oily rags got into the bilge in the first place ended up being the focus of the ensuing investigation, IIRC.) I'd strongly bet that a whole lot of safety precautions were blown off or went awry leading up to this mess.

Of course, if you're going to have a fire in a submarine at all, doing so at the beginning of an overhaul is probably the "best" time.

Originally posted at - comment wherever you please.