A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is arguably one of the most dangerous work places in the world. Aircraft loaded with ordnance are launched day and night in some of the most hostile areas of the world; but the enemy and workplace hazards aren’t the only danger.
With the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) deployed to the Arabian Gulf, where the heat index can reach upwards of 125 degrees Fahrenheit, there is a new threat to the safety of the crew – heat stress.
The average human body regulates itself to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature outside is greater than that, your body uses sweat to cool itself down. Your body can only take so much heat before it can’t handle anymore, which leads to injury and will take you out of the fight.
In a 10-day span running from July 24 – Aug. 4, there were 12 heat related injuries reported aboard the ship.
“I have to constantly be hydrating,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class Sime Facini, from New York. “I never knew I could sweat so much. Every time I come down from the flight deck I take my shirt and squeeze it out. By the end of the day I bet I could fill a bucket full of sweat.”
Being made of steel, the inside of the skin of the ship can almost be as hot as it is on the flight deck. Buckets are filled with ice from the galley so that Sailors can have some cold water before it turns warm. Fan coil maintenance throughout the ship has to be done on a weekly basis to increase air flow throughout the ship. It’s so hot out that it’s considered lucky if you get a cold shower.
“I haven’t touched the hot water knob once since we’ve gotten to the gulf,” said Facini. “Since we use the water from outside, it’s usually very warm. So we work in hot conditions then take a warm shower and then go right back to sweating.”
Lt. Magnus Perkins, Nimitz’s industrial hygiene officer from Wayne, Ill., and Nimitz’s Safety Officer, Cmdr. Jason Thompson, from El Paso, Texas, have recognized the issues affiliated with the heat of the Arabian Gulf and have revamped Nimitz’s heat stress prevention program.
“The name of the game is ‘stay cool’, and the best part is that we can all win with a little bit of knowledge,” said Perkins.
Heat acclimatization can take anywhere from five days to 12 weeks, where the typical individual usually acclimates within two weeks. The recommended water intake during these high heat conditions is a quart per hour.
“Surprisingly, a lot of our heat stress casualties had to do with Sailors not eating, instead of hydration,” said Perkins. “So in addition to hydrating, Sailors should be eating regular meals to keep their energy up so their bodies can make their own electrolytes when needed.”
Sailors are recommended to steer clear of caffeinated drinks such as energy drinks and coffee as it causes further dehydration.
“Heat casualties detract from mission readiness,” said Thompson. “So far we’ve lost 270 man hours due to heat related injuries. We urge all supervisors to keep an eye on their Sailors and get them out of the hot spaces and into the cool ones to recover.”
There are chairs set up in the mess decks for those Sailors without air conditioned spaces to cool down before having to go back to work. Changes have been made to the ship’s uniform standards to account for the increased temperature. These changes include being able to wear coveralls at “half-mast”, meaning tied around a Sailor’s waist. Flight deck jerseys need not be worn unless on the flight deck. This helps Sailors, like Facini, who are in the heat most of the day.
“The heat isn’t going away any time soon,” said Facini. “the only thing to do is wait for your body to acclimate and stay hydrated. If I’m thirsty then it’s too late, because not only do I have to make up for the lack of water in my body, I have to drink enough to account for what I’m about to sweat out.”
Many Sailors have embraced that the heat is here to stay and have come up with new ways to try and keep cool. Some Sailors use USB powered fans in their racks in addition to the air conditioning in their berthings. A simple thing such as closing a hatch or door behind you can mean a huge difference in keeping your space cool. It’s easier to keep a space cool than to cool it down.
Surrounded by water, it’s next to impossible to escape the heat of the scorching sun. As long as Sailor’s are doing everything in their power to beat the heat, there is next to nothing that can bring down the crew of the mighty warship Nimitz.
The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. While in the region, the strike group is conducting maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, preserve freedom of navigation, and maintain the free flow of commerce.