SAN DIEGO – Sailors from USS Makin Island (LHD 8) assisted firefighting efforts starting July 12 when a fire was reported aboard fellow amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6).
On the morning of July 12, a fire was called away aboard the ship while it was moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego. Base and shipboard firefighters responded to the fire. Bonhomme Richard is going through a maintenance availability that began in 2018.
Makin Island's initial response included two teams of damage control Sailors and medical personnel to Bonhomme Richard, arriving at approximately 9 a.m. at Pier 2 with gear in hand.
"By the time we arrived on the scene, the entire upper V and lower V were engulfed in flames," said Chief Damage Controlman Jose Toscano-Lopez, who led Makin Island's seven-Sailor team of damage control personnel. "The firefighting efforts were from the upper V entrance and hangar bay from Repair 1H. It was a coordination of Sailors and the Federal Fire Department."
The first wave of medical personnel – three corpsmen – arrived to assist with triage and provide care for the heat and smoke casualties on the scene, bringing medical supplies to the scene as Bonhomme Richard's medical supplies were all destroyed.
The damage control team worked to integrate with other teams already on the scene, working until approximately 1 p.m.
"Initially, we assisted on the pier cooling the ship down; we were sent to USS Fitzgerald to grab AFFF (aqueous film forming foams) and hoses," said Toscano-Lopez. "Then when the abandon ship call was made, the entire pier was engulfed in smoke, and our team was stuck onboard Fitzgerald. Our electrician assisted in unrigging shore power since the ship was undermanned, and two of our guys ended up disconnecting CHT (collection holding transfer) and casting the Fitzgerald and Russell out to sea."
By the afternoon, a second-team was dispatched to the pier, though several of the first firefighters returned, including Toscano-Lopez, and stayed on site from 2-9 p.m.
"The second time we were on standby to go in and assist in the firefighting efforts. We did not make it into the ship due to explosions, and eventually, the flight deck was caving into the hangar bay,” said Toscano-Lopez. "The best way to describe it was organized chaos. It was an amazing sight to see; the entire waterfront was there with personnel and gear. Everyone was helping each other out – getting teams dressed out, getting teams undressed and into medical, bringing food and water, and distributing it to everyone."
At 3 p.m. on Sunday, the first three-person team was relieved by Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Todd Burkholder, Makin Island's medical and dental department leading chief petty officer, and three additional corpsmen to continue to provide medical care for heat and smoke-related injuries.
Fleet Surgical Team 1, a unit embarked aboard Makin Island – relieved the Makin Island's team Monday morning with one doctor and three other corpsmen to provide a continued medical presence on the scene.
According to Burkholder, several medical teams from large deck ships were on scene, including USS Boxer (LHD 4), USS San Diego (LPD 22), and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), as well as Fleet Surgical Team 5.
"The scene had hundreds of firefighters from various ships, FEDFIRE departments everywhere, and at least 30 medical responders who took over the base theater and set up six medical treatment stations and a triage station at the pier," said Burkholder." It was a complete and fantastic compilation of medical assets from across the waterfront, cycling all firefighters through medical stations after they came out of the fire, providing oxygen, and monitoring them to ensure they were safe. If they weren't they went to the hospital via ambulance. All told, we sent 57 personnel to the hospital, including a few for blast injuries. Five were admitted to UCSD (University of California San Diego)."
Personnel remain on station. Makin Island continues to keep gear staged and ready to assist if needed. In addition to medical and firefighting efforts, the ship's supply department provided coveralls and boots to first responders. The security department loaned scene leaders additional radios to aid in communication.
"I'm very proud to be a part of Team Raider and see our young Sailors step up to the plate and request to assist," said Toscano-Lopez. "This is a very tragic event and is very sad, but it also made me very proud to be a Sailor. Seeing the entire waterfront come together to help out in any way they can and, at one point, seeing Old Glory through the smoke flying on BHR as teams entered to save her was an amazing sight to see. At sunset, the whistle blew for colors, and the entire pier went silent as everyone stood tall at attention and saluting the ensign onboard the BHR…powerful moment."