by Susan Krawczyk
U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command
December 14, 2018
No matter what a recruit's rate (job) will be in the Navy, there is one area of training they all receive that may someday be vital in saving lives aboard a ship - firefighting.
Before they leave boot camp at Recruit Training Command, all recruits attend a five-day training evolution at the USS Chief that teaches them about Basic Damage Control and Fire Fighting before heading to the fleet.
"When they go to the fleet they will at least have basic training with regard to fighting fires. Some recruits who are not going to go to 'A' School and go straight to the ship won't have the opportunity to learn firefighting while in school, so at least they come away from boot camp with the basic knowledge they need to fight fires," said Damage Controlman 1st Class Mark Crisostomo, firefighting instructor and leading petty officer, Fire Fighting Training Division. "There may come a time a time when they'll be on a ship or submarine and might be called upon to fight a fire."
USS Chief has been in operation since 1990 and between 30,000 to 40,000 recruits are trained annually. Each recruit is given a basic orientation starting with basic damage control. There are discussions about buoyancy, compartmentalization and how to find their way around the ship with the compartment identification number system. This training gives the recruits a basic understanding on why it is important to close a door or a hatch on board a ship.
Currently, there are 27 instructors at the USS Chief, including Crisostomo, who graduated from boot camp in 2008, after having just arrived here from the Philippines. While he initially came to RTC in 2014 to be a Recruit Division Commander, a change of plans led him to teaching firefighting full time instead.
Recruits attend firefighting training during their fifth week of boot camp, which begins with classroom training.
Once the recruits learn basic damage control and how to navigate around a ship, instructors review the fire triangle (oxygen, fuel, heat). They show the recruits the uses of different extinguishing agents and they are taught to identify the different classes of fires.
Recruits also visit the "Confidence Chamber" where they learn how to properly wear the MCU-2P Gas Mask during a gas attack. They first undergo classes on the different types of CBR threats and the effects they can have on personnel and equipment and are shown how to properly wear the gas mask. The recruits then enter the chamber wearing a mask where a tear gas is deployed and the recruits remove their masks to give them a sense of the importance of wearing the mask.
Some recruits may be apprehensive about going into the Confidence Chamber after overhearing recruits discussing it in the galley who have already experienced it. If anyone states they do not want to do it, we talk it out with them, encouraging them and explain the need for teamwork and that usually does the trick," said Crisostomo. "If we ask a division afterward, 'Who wants to do it again?' At least half of them will raise their hands as they discover the ordeal was nowhere near as difficult as they believed it would be."
Firefighting training ends on a high note as the instructors have the students fight some of the different types of fires in full firefighting gear and equipment, including properly wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus, or Scott Air Pack.
The USS Chief trainer is set up with six hatched compartments. Inside, each compartment can be set up to safely produce flames of various heights and degrees. The recruits are split into hose teams of eight to 10 members, including a nozzleman, scene leader and plugman. Each recruit on a hose then gets the opportunity to be a nozzleman fighting the compartment fire from the open hatch.
During the firefighting portion the instructors work in shifts to train each hose team. There are usually up to 10 instructors involved in the firefighting portion of the trainer, while the other instructors work in the classrooms giving lectures.
"It's a lot easier to teach recruits at this time because they are close to graduation and are highly motivated," said Crisostomo. "Plus, it's hands-on training and when they hear they're going to be actually fighting a fire and handling a hose, as opposed to just watching it happen on TV or in a movie, they look forward to this. It's not just classroom stuff when they sit and listen."
Current events also fuel their motivation such as the tragic recent event involving the USS Fitzgerald.
"After hearing about actual events out in the fleet, the recruits don't want to slack off on this training phase one because when they go to the fleet, they're going to need this, even if they're not a firefighter in their field," said Crisostomo.
For the instructors at the USS Chief, the job of teaching firefighting to the recruits is rewarding.
"It takes a well-rounded Sailor to be a member of RTC's firefighting division," said Chief Damage Controlman Rodlin Achreus, leading chief petty officer, Firefighting Training Division. "A staff of 27 Sailors take recruits through a five-day journey of intense mental and physical training on firefighting fundamentals to become proficient basically trained Sailors in chemical, biological, and radiological scenarios to hose handling and aligning vital lifesaving equipment. Having key players like DC1 Crisostomo as the FFTD LPO is crucial in our daily operations. From ensuring our curriculum has the latest revisions to making sure all of our staff members maintain high-risk screening standards. He is a welcome addition to the RTC family."
For anyone contemplating coming to RTC as a firefighting instructor, Crisostomo advises to maintain a positive attitude while teaching the recruits the basic information they need to know.
"Be motivated and take pride in what you do here. This is your chance to help them out so they're be better prepared by the time they get to the fleet," said Crisostomo. "Whatever product you want on the fleet, it's what you're going to give them while you are training them here."
Boot camp is approximately eight weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. About 30,000 to 40,000 recruits graduate annually from RTC and begin their Navy careers.