NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —
Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) has begun providing tours that could potentially save the Navy hundreds of millions of dollars.
With an estimated construction cost for USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) of $6.2 billion, safeguarding such a massive taxpayer investment is a tremendous priority. Helping to achieve that is the mutual aid program between NNSY and community fire departments. To improve collaboration and increase awareness, local firefighters have recently been touring the carrier to learn its layout and discuss response actions in the event of a major fire onboard. Bush has been at NNSY since February 2019 for a Drydocking Planned Incremental Availability (DPIA).
Portsmouth and Chesapeake firefighting crews, along with the Maritime Incident Response Team (MIRT), have been participating in NNSY’s shipboard familiarization tours since they began in July. “This is to gain understanding of the waterfront layout, emergency scene operations and the confines of a CVN during a fire event, enhancing their ability to support Norfolk Naval Shipyard during a major shipboard fire and associated drills and exercises,” said John Micheli, NNSY Emergency Management Planning Division Head (Code 1130).
Code 1130 Emergency Management Specialist Vincent Jackson added, “this tour gives an advance look at the shipyard environment prior to a mutual aid response. It provides them awareness of potential obstacles that may be present during their response such as limited access points, temporary services, constricted spaces, etc. In addition, it gives a shipboard perspective to firefighting, and a look at shipboard firefighting systems such as repair lockers and fire main systems. The greatest benefit is showing them how their expertise will enhance the shipyard’s firefighter efforts.”
Portsmouth Fire Chief Jim Hoffler agreed. “Shipboard tours and drills within NNSY provide our personnel with valuable training and experience to which we would rarely have access,” he said. “With the number of private shipbuilding and commercial seaborne assets in our city, the exposure that our crews get from NNSY makes for much smoother and safer operations for our personnel. This was evident in two fires aboard ships, outside of NNSY, within the past several years.”
The last time a major shipboard fire occurred at one of the nation’s public shipyards—USS Miami (SSN 755) while it was undergoing overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in 2012—firefighters from as far away as Connecticut swarmed to Kittery, Maine to help battle the overnight blaze. One of the outcomes from the Miami investigation was identifying the need for shipyards to increase training with local fire departments on major fires, as their lack of familiarity with the boat’s layout and confines challenged the response.
NNSY teamed with Portsmouth and Chesapeake’s fire departments, along with the MIRT, back in 2013 for a major fire drill onboard USS Maryland (SSBN 738) and has been collaborating on shipboard drills ever since. “Portsmouth Fire Department along with our regional fire department assets have become an integral part of the major submarine drills with the shipyard. We have been included in all aspects of the practice and planning for these events,” said Hoffler, who added the Portsmouth Fire Department has helped extinguish fires at the shipyard dating back to at least World War II.
The mutual aid program supports the Chief of Naval Operations Design for Maritime Superiority 2.0 priority to Expand and Strengthen our Network of Partners by forging “closer relationships between our Navy installations and host communities, both within the United States and abroad. Create new access opportunities, promote mutual security through drills and exercises, and build pride in and loyalty with the communities we serve.”
Per the mutual aid agreement, Norfolk Naval Shipyard Fire and Emergency Services also regularly assist the Portsmouth Fire Department, most recently helping to extinguish an overnight fire at a commercial building on Victory Boulevard this past June.
NNSY Emergency Management and Portsmouth Fire Department personnel look forward to continuing this mutually beneficial partnership well into the future. “Portsmouth Fire Department stands ready at all times to assist the Norfolk Naval Shipyard with any emergency situation,” said Hoffler. “We look forward to continued partnership and cooperation between our two entities.”