Leadership: More Careers Up In Smoke

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August 1, 2008:The U.S. Navy has removed the captain and executive officer of the nuclear carrier USS George Washington. This was because an inquiry found out what caused the May 22nd fire on the George Washington. Sailors were smoking in an unauthorized area, which was adjacent to where combustible materials were improperly stored. The fire spread so far and so fast because one of the unauthorized items was a container containing 90 gallons of compressor oil (for air conditioning). This blaze heavily damaged 80 compartments, and over 400,000 feet of electrical and communications cable. It cost over $70 million, and several months, to repair the damage. The fire delayed, by several months, the George Washington replacing the USS Kitty Hawk in the western Pacific (with a home port in Japan). This change over was supposed to take place in August. The 47 year old Kitty Hawk is coming back to the United Statesfor decommissioning. Even with the delay, the navy still expects to decommission the Kitty Hawk in January, 2009, as scheduled.

The fire broke out near a major ventilation conduit in the rear of the carrier. This was, in navyspeak, an "unmanned (no one normally worked there) Auxiliary Boiler Exhaust and Supply space." The damaged conduitnot only circulated air to compartments below the waterline, but also contained pipes carrying large numbers of electrical and communications cables. These lit up and before the fire was completely put out (it took twelve hours), over 120,000 metersof cables were damaged or destroyed. Over two percent of the ships 3,800 spaces (rooms) were damaged. Some of the spaces suffered severe damage (metal walls melted or seriously weakened), but the most troublesome damage was to the electrical and data cables. There were also 37 injuries to sailors who fought the fire, mostly from smoke inhalation. There are hundreds of unmanned spaces on a carrier, and petty officers are responsible for keeping an eye on them for unauthorized activity (usually sex or smoking).

The fire delays are also inconvenient for the families of the crews. Those associated with the George Washington were to move to Yokosuka, Japan,while the Kitty Hawk families moved to Bremerton, in Washington State. The George Washington is currently in San Diego, getting repaired. The ship is scheduled to depart for Japan on August 21st.

Other officers and NCOs may also be punished for the fire, as it took a joint effort (or lack of effort) by many people to get all that combustible material stored next to an area where sailors were getting away with smoking where they weren't supposed to. The navy has been under a lot of pressure recently to improve maintenance standards aboard ships, and to improve supervision provided by NCOs (especially Chief Petty Officers) and officers. The ultimate responsibility for those standards lies with the captain and the executive officer, which is why they were the first to go.

 


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