USS Bonhomme Richard Burns, likely victim of lax fire safety practices

A massive fire, likely caused by lax fire safety practices during dock maintenance, devastated the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) Sunday, one of the 10 large-deck amphibious assault ships in the United States. These ships are meant to be an integral part of holding the line against a resurgence of China, and the loss of this multi-million dollar ship, which seems likely, will be felt throughout the fleet.

The fire, reported at approximately 8:30 am Sunday, was still burning seven hours later and could still burn for some time. The ship, which was undergoing maintenance in San Diego, had about 160 sailors on board at the time of the incident. 18 have reportedly been sent to hospital for non-life threatening injuries.

While the extent of the damage is unknown, the fire has been intense enough to buckle up the structural steel and melt the tires of vehicles parked on the flight deck. Given the extent of the damage, the ship will be, for a minimum, out of service for years, and may well be decommissioned as a total loss.

Shipyard fires are fully preventable

While the cause of the fire is under investigation, we already know that shipyard fires are a serious problem for the US Navy at this time. Multiple fires have occurred on US Navy ships that have undergone maintenance in the past few months, and instead of making changes, the US Navy appears to have chosen to ignore the problem, happier to gloat and point fingers as shipyard fires nearly plunged Russia Admiral Kuznetsov in 2019 and one of China’s new Type 075 large-deck amphibious assault ships earlier this year. The fact that the United States Navy does not act, even after several warnings and close calls, is inexplicable and inexcusable.

Except for very unusual circumstances, the shipyard fire currently consumed by the USS Bonhomme Richard It was probably completely and completely avoidable.

Dock fires are rare when maintenance personnel follow basic fire prevention practices.

But despite multiple warnings in recent years, the US Navy obviously still has a serious problem with shipyard maintenance security. As I wrote in late 2019, “While the US Navy has worked to restore ship handling training after two fatal accidents in 2017, the Navy has suffered possibly greater material loss in preventable accidents. in shipyards since 2012 and has exhibited little energy to remedy it. ”

As this precious front-line asset is settling in the bow, weighed down by the water pumped on board by firefighters, the Navy is uncovering a harsh reality about fire safety. Fires and accidents will continue to occur until ships sink, sailors die, or someone, somewhere in the leadership chain, gets very serious about prevention.

If this incident is identified to be caused by a deviation from the basic and time consuming fire safety rules, all admirals thereafter should be shown the door immediately.

Not that the Navy has not been warned. Fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard burst out, on an ironic note, just across the dock from the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), freshly returned from a multi-year repair after a fatal collision at sea in 2017. During that ship’s multi-year overhaul, the USS Fitzgerald’s The captain became so concerned with fire safety practices that he wrote a memo that was quickly leaked to the record in which he noted more than 15 fire safety incidents in the yard, including “understaffed fire watchers, a cover steaming, combustible material catching fire, the discovery of previously unreported burned-out wireline fires and fires that melted equipment. ”

While much of the Navy focuses on lethality and surviving the battlefield, it will be interesting to see if the skipper of the USS Bonhomme RichardFresh out of a $ 250 million overhaul to operate next-generation F-35B fighter jets, he had a similar interest in securing his ship while it was under maintenance.

Fires at the dock have sunk an American fleet

The only thing sailors fear more than a sea fire is a fire in a reconditioning boat. The reconditioning of a shipyard is one of the most dangerous times for a boat. In an overhaul, safety-oriented ship systems are often closed, critical aisles are blocked by cables, pallets, and other flammable materials as workers, who are often stressed and time-pressed, wear carry out a variety of maintenance tasks with the intention of cutting corners In such an environment, poor safety practices can lead to catastrophe.

The United States Navy has seen these scenarios unfold too many times. In 2012, the United States lost the billionaire attack submarine USS Miami (SSN 755) because a shipyard worker, eager to leave work early, set the submarine on fire. Last year, 11 U.S. sailors were injured in a fire aboard the USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), a critical shipping mini-transporter. USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79) also suffered a fire in November 2018, and the subsequent damage will keep the ship out of the fleet for almost two years longer than planned. According to USNI News, the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) also suffered a fire in a shipyard. In 2011, a fire set the USS batteries on fire. Spruance (DDG 111). Other recent shipyard mishaps have included more than $ 30 million in damage to the future destroyer. Delbert D. Black (DDG 119) after a collision in April 2019. These, along with other avoidable incidents (sea fires, landings, collisions, and other accidents) have essentially sunk or sidelined an entire US battle fleet. USA

The Navy needs to wake up.

If this latest fire is found to be an avoidable incident, the consequences must be measured quickly at all levels of the chain of command. The Navy has lost too many ships and swept away too many recent and egregious cases of shipyard / wharf disregard for fire safety under the rung. Accidents do happen, but if voluntary disregard for basic fire safety practice is the cause of this current debacle, then it’s time to give an example of the leaders who allowed this incident to happen under their watch. It is the only way to focus service attention on eliminating avoidable shipyard accidents.

Only a stable leadership will stop this butchery facing the sea. Without leadership these days, too many shore personnel are too ready to overlook an authoritative and informed safety guide and do things they shouldn’t be doing. And if the Navy leadership is content to look the other way, then Congress must act to focus the Navy’s attention on avoiding avoidable incidents.

Put bluntly, the United States has too many challenges at sea to worry about home maintenance workers sinking the precious United States fleet.