Wednesday, July 29, 2015

General Emergency

I read an article on NPR a few weeks ago about the power of writing -- how writing down goals and working through problems in writing can have all kinds of positive benefits. I have been on the fence lately about whether I wanted to continue putting effort into this blog (as sparse as it has been lately), and this article reminded me about why I write.

I think one thing I need to do to help myself write more and write more effectively is to define for myself what this blog is: is it to showcase the amazing efforts of this great crew? Is it a forum for me to Think Big Coast Guard Thoughts? Is it a means to work through leadership quandaries?

At different times, it is all of the above. I have to be ok with that, and not confine myself to thinking it's just This One Thing. And posts don't have to be long, or earth-shakingly insightful. They just have to be.

So all that to say it's been a while since I posted. Time slips away from me somehow; deadlines creep up, weeks pass in a blur, and before I know it, the patrol is over and we're substantially into our inport. I wrote the post below while we were on patrol, somewhere in the deep blue Caribbean. Just another day at the office...


There I was, sitting peacefully at my desk, waiting for the Boatswain's Mate of the Watch (BMOW, pronounced bee-mo) to come down and pick up the Plan of the Day (POD, pronounced pee-oh-dee...don't ask me why it's not "pod" -- just the way it is) so he could post it around the ship. I was reading the newly released 2015 Commandant's Strategic Intent (I swear I'm not making that up) and had just finished the Executive Summary.


Now set General Emergency. There has been a report of flooding in forward aux. All hands man your General Emergency billets for flooding. Traffic pattern is up and forward on starboard, down and aft on port. Now set General Emergency.


Now set General Emergency. There has been a report of flooding in forward aux. All hands man your General Emergency billets for flooding. Traffic pattern is up and forward on starboard, down and aft on port. Now set General Emergency.

*It was about this point that the thought flashed quickly through my mind, wait, I didn't plan a drill right now. Oh shit, this isn't a drill!

I went to rush up to the bridge, grabbing my red hat along the way, but quickly realized if I went up to the bridge with a red hat on, people might think I'm there as part of a training team, and this was a drill. But this wasn't a drill, so I paused for a moment to get my regular hat, and then went up to the bridge. I did, however, forget to change from my boat shoes to my steel toed boots which are required during emergency responses. Everybody has to be ready to combat a casualty during GE (General Emergency). I failed to be Semper P that night.

I encountered a stream of people on their way down from the bridge to their assigned billets, hollering "Down ladder" as they hurried by. I called "Up ladder" as I made my way up the ladder to the bridge.

SUPPO (Support Officer) had the watch and asked me to take over for the Quartermaster of the Watch (QMOW, pronounced kue-mo) so the QMOW could make it to his position as aft boundaryman faster. The QMOW, BM3 R**, was in the middle of repeating his first pipe, and as soon as he was finished I offered my relief. SUPPO reminded me to pull out the DC plates (DC = damage control, aka ship's drawings) so YN1 could plot the damage and we could keep track of what was going on on the bridge.

** I refuse to let evil win, or even gain any ground from me. However, crewmembers have expressed concern about the security risks of having their full names used online. I'll use titles and initials instead, so we know who I'm talking about, but the bad guys have to work harder to figure it out.

By this time, our Damage Control Assistant (DCA, pronounced dee-see-a) had taken over damage control efforts and piped forward and aft boundaries for forward aux, the space that was flooding; more formally known as the forward auxiliary space because it is forward of the engine room and contains auxiliary equipment like fuel transfer manifolds). Boundaries are meant to prevent damage from spreading throughout the ship, and for flooding consist of the watertight bulkheads and fittings that we use to move around the ship. The boundarymen are responsible for making sure the boundaries are set (i.e., doors, hatches, and scuttles are closed for flooding; doors, hatches, and scuttles closed, flammable material pulled at least 18" away from bulkheads, and fire curtains in place for fire/smoke) and holding (no bulkheads bulging or overheads sagging from collected water, or paint bubbling from fire -- and if there is, to provide cooling water from their faked out and energized fire hose).

BM3 S had relieved me as QMOW by now, and was working through the bridge checklist to make sure we hadn't missed any critical steps. SUPPO had split the Deck and the Conn with our new 1LT (First Lieutenant and Deck Department Head), so SUPPO was still driving the ship and safely navigating it as the Conn, while 1LT had the Deck and was tracking all the other details of combating the damage. SN RM (lookout for GE) and SN WB (helmsmen for GE) were all on the bridge too, relieving their watchstations so SA SR could leave the open bridge as lookout and SA AB could leave the helm. CO and OPS were also on the bridge by that point and were handing out flash gear to everyone. Flash gear consists of a cotton, long sleeved red shirt, a flame retardant hood and cotton gloves, and a Kevlar helmet and is meant to protect skin from burns and noggins from flying debris.

While all this was happening on the bridge, people below decks were also manning the Repair Locker to maximize our readiness to combat the casualty. Repair lockers are lead by Repair Locker Leaders who coordinate Repair Locker response, and direct the response of the On Scene Leader. The On Scene Leader provides reports back to the repair locker from the Attack Team Leader about what actions the Attack Team is taking. An attack team enters the space where the casualty is to patch pipes or plug holes, fight fires, repair toxic gas leaks or desmoke a space. If they enter a space with compromised air quality, they don and energize SCBAs for clean air.

Investigators continually make rounds looking for additional damage that might not be readily apparent. P-100 teams rig the gas-driven pumps that serve as a back-up for our installed fire main system in case the fire main is either the cause of the casualty and/or damaged by the casualty (i.e., it has a hole in the piping and is flooding the space with sea water). And the Rapid Response Team rushes immediately to the cause of the casualty to see if they can combat it quickly before it gets too big and out of control.

That was the case tonight. The Rapid Response Team secured the source of flooding in forward aux. A potable water filter housing had come lose and was spraying fresh water. We initially had 2" of water on the deck, but the installed system quickly reduced that to 1". EO, acting in his capacity as Damage Control Officer, asked the Conn to make some "S" turns to move the water from side to side to suck more of it out with the installed pump. Watchstanders sucked the rest of it out with shop vacs.

Our OODs and Engineers of the Watch (EOWs) are trained to call away for help and set GE even when casualties might be manageable for the watch. It's a lot easier to stand down and send people back to bed than scramble to get Attack Teams ready when flooding or a fire has gotten out of control because someone took too long to act.

The first few times I read my first CO's standing orders, I didn't quite understand the emphasis she placed on proactiveness. It took me a while to get that if I didn't do *something,* no one else might either and that could cost us the ship and lots of lives.Or at the very least, a lot of damaged equipment and plenty of lost sleep. I don't think proactiveness is the natural state of very many people, but generally, the CG does a great job of making it a naturalized state for cuttermen.

We stood down from GE after about seven minutes from the first pipe for General Emergency. And *that's* why we train incessantly.