On the morning of Sunday July 12th, 2020 a fire broke out in one of the lower cargo areas of the amphibious assault ship Bon Homme Richard which was under repairs and docked pierside at Naval Base San Diego. The fire raged for four days before coming under control on July 15th. Hot spots, flare ups, and ship space flooding issues continued to be addressed for several days after the main fires were put out. According to an article by Gina Harkins of Military.com a statement by CNO Adm. Mike Gilday and as reported in Defense News: The fire burned 11 of 14 decks and in some places the full length of the 844 foot long ship. Causes and damage assessments are being conducted by the U.S. Navy.
The response started Sunday afternoon July 12th, 2020 when our Program Manager was contacted to develop a response plan and cost estimates for equipment and personnel resources to send to San Diego. We were formally “Turned On” to respond later that evening.
The PHE response and initial load out was choreographed by our Program Manager, along with the Assistant Base Manager in PHE. The initial team of 7 people headed to San Diego late on July 12th and arrived in the wee hours of the morning of the 13th of July. The initial team was joined by four more PHE personnel the next day and then five from Virgina between the 15th and 16th. Over the course of the first few days the response personnel would work almost around the clock as they unloaded trucks, deployed containment booms, set up firefighting systems, set up HPUs and pump systems, and started operating firefighting pumps and de-watering pump equipment. The team worked doggedly on the emergency site to deploy and operate the badly needed firefighting, de-watering, and pollution response equipment. By the fourth day GPC had enough personnel on site to set up two complete crews of eight people to cover a day and a night shift.
Our personnel from California and Virginia worked on the BHR emergency operation. The operational environment for our personnel contained many different tasks including logistics for equipment, shipping and receiving, operation of all submersible pumps, jetting pumps and other equipment that was located both on the pier and on the ship. We provided hydraulic power units, hoses, a command conference center, shop and rigging vans, pump vans, and firefighting system vans. Our personnel also operated a jetting pump that was directly used to combat the fire. Our personnel assisted with ship de-watering of ballast tanks, and removal of over 500,000 gallons of waste water that had collected throughout the ship that had run off from the intense firefighting efforts. The aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) contaminated water was pumped to a barge that was used as temporary storage and then later in the project that water was shipped to a government approved disposal facility.
Our personnel that responded to the Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) fire had to work long hard hours with little sleep. They spent many hours unloading truck trailers, then slogging hoses, pumps and equipment long distances up and down piers. For those who worked in the carnage that was left inside the ship, they had to navigate and carry hydraulic hoses and discharge hoses and pumps up and down badly damaged ladder wells, past open holes in decks, through semi collapsed passageways that were pitch black dark, all the while working in spaces that were covered in thick layers of toxic soot. The air was always filled with soot and smoke and the compartments and passageways were clogged with debris and collapsed materials that tripped you, cut you, or gouged you at every turn.
All in all, the team performed every task asked of them without delay or hesitation. One thing is certain, the next time any of the GPC teams are called upon to respond to an emergency of unknown difficulty and danger, they will once again march dutifully into the fray.