The Gray Manatee, a three-deck mock ship, was on fire.
In a race against time, sailors here for Fleet Week quickly extinguished the propane-fueled blaze Tuesday amid cheers from teammates.
The fire was real, but the drill was all about honing skills and sailing home with bragging rights.
Dubbed the Damage Control Olympics, the daylong competition recreates real-life disasters a sailor might face at sea. In its 13th year, the event is hosted by Resolve Maritime Academy, a training facility at Port Everglades.
On Tuesday, six teams from the Navy and Coast Guard competed in six maritime safety training drills that included firefighting, search and rescue and patching a flooded chamber.
“A fire at sea is very dangerous,” said Tiffany Epps, a damage control sailor on the guided missile destroyer USS James E. Williams who competed in Tuesday’s drills. “We don’t have a fire department to save us. If we don’t get the fire out, it spreads and we lose our ship.”
A 12-year Navy veteran and New Jersey native, Epps, 31, helps train the entire crew in damage control, whether it’s containing a flood or extinguishing a blaze.
Training at Resolve Maritime is different than training aboard a military ship. “This is real training under real conditions,” said Denise Jones, director at the facility. “There’s real fire and real water.”
As raindrops fell, a team of Coast Guardsmen prepped for the search and rescue drill. Two men in heavy fire gear crawled into a dark, smoke-filled room in search of a mannequin hidden somewhere inside. Three minutes later they emerged, giving two teammates instructions on where to find the dummy inside the labyrinth of a room.
In two minutes, they dashed out carrying their prize.
“It was a lot harder to crawl through that space than I thought it would be,” said J.R. Tinajero, 31, a Miami native and 13-year Coast Guard veteran. “A lot of smoke. It was pretty intense.”
Over at the Wet Trainer facility, a team of sailors from the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp waded in waist-deep water, furiously plugging holes in the mock vessel.
“The point is to patch the holes as quickly as possible,” said Sela Foukimoana, a spokeswoman with Resolve Maritime. “They’re racing against time.”
The drills gave each team a chance to improve their skills while also engaging in a little friendly competition, said Lt. Commander Michael Beaty, damage control assistant for the Wasp.
“We’re the first responders on the ship,” Beaty said of the damage control contingent. “We’re the firefighters and repairmen. We handle fires, flooding, toxic gas, collisions. They’ll go back to the Wasp and relay the knowledge and experience they’re getting today to the rest of the crew.”
Besides the Wasp, other competing ships included the USS New Hampshire, a submarine; the USS Cole, a guided missile destroyer; the USS James Williams, a guided missile destroyer; and the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Richard Etheridge.
During the drills, live music played, compliments of the “Riverdown” band. Hungry sailors were also treated to breakfast and lunch, massage stations and a visit from the Red Bull Girls.
The team from the USS Cole took first place in the competition, the Coast Guard’s Richard Etheridge came in second and the USS Wasp Team 1 came in third.
The top three teams won plaques of gold, silver and bronze.
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