“Call it in!” yelled Damage Controlman 2nd Class Angie A. Grimes, assigned to amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). She was responding to a real life event, an electrical fire, which started in one of the engineering spaces. She had heard a small explosion and ran to the engineering space and instantly took charge. She ordered a Sailor to grab a CO2 bottle to hand over to someone who had already responded. Members of the flying squad began to arrive just in time to put the fire out with ease.
Grimes is part of a group of trained individuals who respond to emergency calls. They make up what’s known as the ships flying squad.
“We are shipboard fire fighters for ships casualties,” said Grimes. “It’s dedication and a will to learn. It’s the ability to run into a casualty while everyone else is running away from it. We wear our capes inside our coveralls,” Grimes added jokingly.
Each member wears a red ball cap as part of their uniform; however it takes specialized training to be able to wear one. The flying squad is essentially Boxer’s fire department. They respond to flooding, toxic gas, and fire emergencies. There is no 9-1-1 onboard. These guys are it.
“We are a multi-faceted attack team, said Chief (SW/AW) Damage Controlman Elias Robles, Boxer’s fire marshall. “We’re trained and prepared for any shipboard casualties, from a basic alpha fire to a CBR attack.”
They respond to all shipboard emergencies unless they are medical related.
The majority of the flying squad is composed of the repair division, which includes Hull Maintenance Technicians, Damage Controlmen and Machinery Repairmen. It also includes other engineers such as Electricians Mate’s and Machinists Mate’s.
In order to qualify as a flying squad team member a Sailor must achieve Basic Damage Control, Advanced Damage Control, and Team Leader qualifications, and must be able to dress out in a Fire Fighting Ensemble (FFE) in two minutes or less. All repair division jobs are required to be a part of flying squad, but Sailors from other rates can volunteer as well.
The flying squad team participates in scenario-based training evolutions, which help Grimes and her team respond quickly to emergencies and put out fires. They conduct drills twice a week and train daily on damage control material.
“The most rewarding thing is the satisfaction of knowing that our efforts of training, practicing, and drilling prepare us to respond to casualties that could potentially save the ship,” said Robles.
He continues, “Here on Boxer we have been limited on the amount of actual casualties that we have had. I think that is attributed to command-wide training.”
With the complexities of being on a ship, challenges are always present.
“One of the most challenging aspects of the flying squad is the schedule,” says Robles.
During normal working hours each flying squad members already have individual jobs to take care of, but they also spend part of the day conducting maintenance and inventories on all the equipment to make sure that it is always fully functional and ready for use. Additionally they conduct drills throughout the workday.
“Being on the flying squad you have to have a thirst for knowledge, and knowing that one day you may run into a space that’s on fire,” said Grimes. “You have to be okay with that. “