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Rapid Response Team helps keep "Connie" Fit to Fight

NAVSEA Observer


By Marshall Fukuki, PHNSY & IMF Public Affairs

Seven employees of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PHNSY & IMF) spent part of their Veterans Day weekend miles out at sea in order to ensure the safe operation of a carrier bound for the war against terrorism.

USS Constellation (CV 64) was passing near the Hawaiian islands en route to the Middle East when a fire broke out Friday, Nov. 8, in one of the ship's main machinery rooms. At 8:30 a.m. the next morning, Code 240 Chief Engineer Glenn Gardner received a phone call at home tasking him to put together a Shipyard rapid response team to assess the damage and provide assistance to keep the carrier operating safely.

Gardner assembled a team composed of himself, a mechanical engineer, a mechanical engineer technician, a structural engineer, an electrical engineer and two insulators.

At 2 p.m. that same day, they took off from Hickam Air Force Base on a transport plane sent by Constellation. Wearing helmets, goggles and earmuffs, the Yarders were securely strapped in and facing backwards in the windowless body of the prop-driven aircraft. Their flight ended a half-hour later with an abrupt stop on the deck of the carrier. "It wasn't that bad," said one of the team members of the landing. He observed the aircrew and made sure his own harness was really tight. "I figured it would be like slamming on your brakes in your car."

After being briefed by the ship's chief engineer, the team was escorted to the machinery space where the fire occurred. "The first thing I noticed was the lingering smell [of fuel oil]," recalled the team member. "The fumes were almost overwhelming, really stink."

The odor was similar to what you would smell out at Honolulu International Airport, he said, except it was "ten times stronger."

A valve had leaked, spilling fuel oil. A pump caught fire and then another fire started in the bilges. The ship's force extinguished the blaze in about an hour.

The Yarders put on tank suits, gloves and dust masks and began their inspection. The laggers removed damaged insulation so the engineers could check equipment and other structural, electrical and piping systems. Working into the night, they found the ship to be technically satisfactory to continue its mission.

Gardner agreed that the ship did an excellent job in responding to the fire, praising the carrier's fire-fighting and damage control teams. "They made the right decisions," he said. "It could have been a lot worse."

The Yarders finished writing their reports between 9:30 and 10 p.m. and got to eat at midnight.

The team members finally went to bed at 1 a.m. At 9 a.m. Sunday, they were back on the cargo plane, ready to be launched.

The trip home took two to three times longer than the outbound flight since Constellation was now farther away from Oahu.

Shop 64 manufactured replacement insulation pads that were flown out to Constellation. Gardner, summing up the Shipyard's response, said, "It was a delight working with the team. Everyone pitched in and did whatever needed to be done to render the ship safe for continued operation."

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