PACIFIC OCEAN – When the bells sound over the ship’s announcing system, Sailors get to their repair lockers in a hurry to grab their gear and get to their stations. Onboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) there are two teams who ensure the safety of the crew on the inside of the ship and on the flight deck.
The at-sea fire party or “flying squad” as they are more commonly referred to, are the first responders to any fire onboard the Ashland ensuring the shipboard safety of all areas of the ship. They are a rapid response team primarily made up of damage controlmen, hull technicians and machinery repairmen, composed of approximately 10 to 12 people.
Damage Controlman 3rd Class Michael Rinegold from Webster, New York, who is the scene leader for the Flying Squad and the team leader for the flight deck’s Crash and Salvage team, says muscle memory and regular training results in a team of Sailors who can take control of an incident within minutes and stop the casualty.
“We’re trained to respond to incidents that, under very unique circumstances, might end up resulting in mass casualties of personnel. We’re specialized fire fighters, some of the incidents we might deal with include, helo crashes, exploding bombs, major fuel oil leaks and flooding,” said Rinegold. “If a helo crashes or a store room bursts into flames in the middle of the night, and nobody has dealt with that before, they’re going to run around like chickens with their heads cut off because they won’t have any constructive direction of what to do or where to go; whereas we know exactly what to do.”
Since starting patrol on June 3, the teams have conducted in flight deck drills, general quarters, repair locker drills, and flying squad drills.
Hull Technician 3rd Class Curtis Smith from Rockwell, Texas, who is a Hot Suitman for the flight deck’s Crash and Salvage team and the lead nozzleman for the flying squad says the job of the team members are not only to combat fires and casualties inside the ship and outside, but also to teach newcomers onboard how to do the same.
“We do training all the time, we’re constantly on our toes, we are the ones that train everybody else how to be a basic damage controlman,” said Smith. “Whenever we practice these drills we try to make it as close as possible to the actual casualty…we have smoke machines to simulate smoke, we go on air, we wear every little bit of PPE, we train like we fight basically.”
Rinegold says he enjoys his collateral duties as a scene leader and a team leader because it gives him a thrill to be involved in possibly risky situations and knowing what to do.
“I enjoy going into all these bad scenarios, but I know enough about the bad scenarios to know how to react, and the camaraderie that comes with training with a great group of people. If you don’t ever work together with somebody you won’t know how they tick, or how they will react in set circumstances, but if you understand that person and train with them then you will understand how they will react under pressure. This is one of the major goals of being in these teams, it causes us to come out on top every time and it hasn’t failed us yet.”
Ashland is forward deployed to Sasebo, Japan, and is a part of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group and is on patrol in the U.S. 7th fleet area of operations.