JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – On an Army vessel, mariners operate under the precept “Everyone is a firefighter.”
It implies every able body must fully extend themselves during emergencies to save ship and crew at sea or otherwise.
Mariners-in-training at the Army Transportation School’s 88K Watercraft Operator Course rehearsed those lifesaving procedures and more during live-fire training exercises April 16 at a dedicated fire training facility on Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
“Firefighting is crucially important,” emphasized course instructor Sgt. 1st Class William Anderson. “If we don’t have proper shipboard firefighting skills in a situation where you are very isolated at sea, that ship’s going to go down and the crew’s chances of survival are very slim.”
The fledgling mariners – in the second week of the month-and-a-half-long military occupational specialty course – first spent time in the classroom learning how to wear protective gear and use the self-contained breathing apparatus.
“Then, we teach them how to perform procedures for hose-handling, door cooling and entry, and the proper procedures for entering our fire trainer,” said Rich Prevoznik, lead firefighting instructor.
The fire trainer – a two-level facility with stairs and several chambers – can generate smoke and flames resulting in temperatures up to 400 degrees. During the entry exercises, Soldiers are required to correctly don their gear, prepare hoses and other equipment, and gain access into dark, smoke-filled chambers where fires are burning.
The tasks look easier on paper than they are when actually performed, observed Pvt. Jacob Melcher, a native of Nashville, Tenn.
“Your anxiety and stress levels rise because you can’t see anything through the smoke,” he said, also describing the darkness as disorienting. “I was breathing fast and going through my oxygen tank really quick.”
Pfc. Benjamin Szulgit elaborated on the mental and physical demands of the exercise.
“For a lot of people, it was overcoming the fear of flames and not being able to see,” said the 21-year-old New Yorker. “On the physical side, it was overcoming the heat – the strain of wearing that heavy suit. Going in as a team made it a lot easier.”
Pvt. Souleyman Drame had to endure the chamber entrance tasks twice due to breathing issues.
“I found out I had claustrophobia when it comes to wearing a mask in darkness,” said the 20-year-old Milwaukeean. “It caught me off guard. It really came down to not trusting the equipment and letting that overpower what I know in my head. When I went in the second and third time, it was cool to see myself overcome my fears and get through it.”
All of the 88K students – assigned to Echo Company, 266th Quartermaster Battalion –performed the training tasks to standard.
During the opening weeks of the Watercraft Operator Course, students learn other emergency procedures such as drown-proofing and man-over-board rescues. In the second half of the course, students learn core MOS tasks. Their training culminates with a field exercise that takes place on the Chesapeake Bay off the shores of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story.
The course graduates an average of 144 students per year. The Transportation School is among the military training institutions aligned with the Combined Arms Support Command, headquartered at Fort Lee, the Army’s Sustainment Center of Excellence.