SAN DIEGO – Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) watched the black smoke billowing into the sky to the south. What started as a quiet Sunday morning quickly turned into a week-long battle against a catastrophic fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6).
On July 12, a fire was called away aboard the ship while it was moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego going through a maintenance availability, which began in 2018.
Stethem was dry docked just to the north, at the BAE shipyard, for a selected restricted availability, but Stethem’s damage control experts quickly shifted their focus to gathering equipment and mustering resources in advance of the call for Rescue and Assistance teams to help combat the growing fire.
Shortly after lunch, a team of seven steelworkers answered the first call and remained on standby while first responders continued to fight the fire. By the end of the first day, 20 Steelworkers were dispatched to the scene, assisting from the pier.
Lt. Cmdr. Jae Park, Stethem’s engineer officer, served as an on-scene commander, directing the overall damage control effort.
As the week progressed, Stethem’s crew continued to support by providing equipment and more than 60 steelworkers to assist in the firefighting and overhaul efforts.
Damage Controlman 1st Class Francis Pareja was assigned to one of the teams investigating the extent of the fire damage and identifying any remaining “hot spots” that could have reignited the blaze.
“[My team was] hard charging, and willing to go in the face of danger,” said Pareja. He said, with the extent of the damage, any inattention to detail could place his team in peril.
The willingness and selflessness of all the steelworkers to respond to the call for help is an example of how Stethem’s crew strives to embody the legacy of its namesake, Robert Stethem, who lost his life during the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 by Hezbollah terrorists in 1985.
USS Stethem is homeported in San Diego.