22nd MEU Learns to Combat Shipboard Fires

13 Aug 2003 | Lance Cpl. Robert Sturkie and Gunnery Sgt. Keith Milks

On a blistering hot day in July 1967 in the coastal waters of North Vietnam, crewmembers aboard the aircraft carrier USS FORRESTAL were preparing to launch a wave of attack and fighter aircraft against enemy targets in North Vietnam when tragedy reared its ugly head.

At 10:53 a.m. local time, a rocket attached to a Navy F-4B Phantom II fighter malfunctioned and shot across the crowded flight deck, eventually slamming into a fuel and ordnance-laden A-4E Skyhawk attack jet.  Within seconds, other aircraft, fuel tanks, and munitions began to 'cook off,' inciting an inferno that engulfed the FORRESTAL.  The ship's primary firefighting team scrambled to attack the blaze but were caught up in the maelstrom and many of the Sailors were soon dead or injured.  The task to combat the blaze then fell to Sailors for whom firefighting was a collateral duty.

A similar responsibility is given to Marines assigned to deployed Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs), and the 22d MEU has laid the groundwork to ensure its Marines are prepared for any shipboard fire catastrophe.  Recently, more than 300 Marines from the unit underwent a day-long period of instruction in combating fires aboard ship.

Taught by the Navy Ferrier Fire Fighter School's Mobile Training Team stationed at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., the course gave the Marines a dose of what it takes to fight and contain fires.

"We come here to give the Marines their basic fire fighter qualification," said Jennings.  "They need to know how to combat and extinguish fires before they deploy."

Instruction included an explanation about the types of fires that may be encountered aboard ship, the proper way to wear safety gear, and an introduction to standard firefighting equipment.  The culminating event of the training was when the Marines manned the hoses and helped contain and extinguish a diesel fire set at Camp Lejeune's fire training center.

Marines that participated in the course said it is an important part of pre-deployment training.

"This course gives me more confidence, because now I know if a fire were to break out on ship, the Marines and Sailors will be able to handle the situation," said Cpl. Matthew D. Collins, of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), the MEU's aviation combat element.

22d MEU Personal Administration Center legal and promotions clerk Lance Cpl. Manuel Amoguis, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii, echoed Collins' sentiment on the importance of the training.

"I learned that teamwork is the key to fighting fires," said Amoguis, "and I think it was real important for us to do this training because it could save our lives when we go on deployment."

The FORRESTAL tragedy took the lives of 134 Sailors, injured nearly 200, consumed 21 aircraft, and took 13 hours to extinguish.  Training such as that recently undertaken by the MEU will help prevent or diminish such calamities in the future.

The 22d MEU consists of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, HMM-266 (Rein), and MEU Service Support Group 22.  The unit is scheduled to deploy early next year aboard the USS WASP, WHIDBEY ISLAND, and SHREVEPORT.

For more information on the organization, mission and status of the 22d MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit