Articles

16 intense photos that show how sailors fight fires at sea

Firefighting is dangerous, scary work even when it's done on solid ground where firemen can fall back if the flames get too fierce.


Sailors at sea, on the other hand, don't have that luxury. They have to battle the fire on a ship filled with fuel. And failure means that the ship, the only home they have on the waves, will sink and take some of their brothers with it.

To keep everyone as safe as possible, the Navy uses dedicated firefighters and cross-trains some sailors to assist them in an emergency. Here's how they prepare to protect their floating cities from burning up:

1. They conduct frequent drills in their firefighting equipment.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mason M. Gillan)

2. They keep full firefighting suits on board and practice using them in hallways and other tight areas.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman William Sykes)

3. To help them spot flames behind bulkheads or in sections filled with thick smoke, firefighters carry thermal imaging devices.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Patrick Enright)

4. The Navy Firefighting Thermal Imager displays infrared video that can show sources of heat even when there's no visible light or thick smoke obscures firefighters' vision.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ellen Hilkowski)

5. Firefighters have to operate as teams to stay safe in flame-filled areas of the ship.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristopher S. Haley)

6. The ship's spaces can turn into a living hell once the flames start to spread.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman William Sykes)

7. Frequent communication is key to keeping everyone safe and fighting the fire.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Bill Dodge)

8. While firefighters are forced to concentrate on saving the ship, rescuing injured personnel is also a huge part of the mission.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ryan U. Kledzik)

9. If an aircraft is aflame on the flight deck, sometimes the best option is to cut out any survivors and then throw the plane or helicopter overboard. The Navy practices for this possibility on land.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Cdr. Chad Falgout)

10. It's best to fight fires while they're small, which is why suited up firefighters will position themselves to respond during dangerous landings.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeanette Mullinax)

11. Ships have some automated systems to help firefighters. Here, sailors practice with firefighting foam during ship trials.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dennis Grube)

12. Sailors often compete in "Damage Control Olympics" where they try to show who's the best at putting out fires and other damage control activities.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Bryan Mai)

13. Other preventative training includes simulated firefighting on the ship.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Stumberg)

14. Different flags are used for various types of fire, and observers will keep track of how teams respond.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael J. Lieberknecht)

15. Teams learn to respond during an actual emergency through realistic training scenarios.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Grady T. Fontana)

16. There's just a thin yellow line between sailors and the potentially catastrophic danger of a fire, and the Navy works hard to make sure that line is as robust as possible.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman William Sykes)

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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