Yokosuka facility gives sailors cutting-edge firefighting training
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Navy’s newest high-tech firefighting and damage control training center roared to life Monday as the first class fought fires and floods in a daylong session.
Two dozen USS John S. McCain sailors battled blazes in spaces simulating an engineering room, galley and berthing.
Then they battled flooding as they patched and pumped out the flooding room.
The new center is leagues of improvement over the previous open-air training center, sailors who have trained in both said.
“This one is actually set up right, just like you would find on the ship,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Brendan Thibideau said.
“This is three times better than the old. Over there, it was just a building. So you’d get trained how to fight a fire in a building, not on a ship.”
The sprawling new complex features firefighting scenarios for a helicopter landing pad, ordnance, an engine room, berthing spaces and an electronics panel room.
Next door, the flooding room — nicknamed the “buttercup” — provides multilevel training simulating flooding in tight spaces.
The commander of the Afloat Training Group, Western Pacific, which runs the training center, was on hand Monday to officially open the facility and observe the first class.
“This is a state-of-the-art facility and a dramatic improvement from what was next door,” Capt. David Bigelow said.
“The other building was 50 years old, and while we were able to use it as a certified training center, it was showing its age. This new facility is a big step forward.”
Bigelow said simulations are now computer-controlled, and all training fires can be halted with the flip of a switch.
Previously, all functions — including controlling potentially deadly training fires — were manual.
The new training center provides both hands-on training by instructors in training rooms and oversight by technicians in a centralized control booth.
The new training center also has heated water.
Previously, cold temperatures halted training certain times of year.
But the biggest improvement for training are the new facility’s environmental controls, officials said.
The old training center was an open-air building: Thick, black smoke belched from the complex each time training was conducted.
The new facility is enclosed in an enormous building containing recycling systems for air, water and smoke.
In the new building, smoke is collected, processed and released. And all of the water is captured, cleaned and re-used.
Particulates removed from the air are collected and processed into bricks, which are used in road construction, Bigelow said.
“Environmentally, it is a pretty dramatic improvement,” he said.
From 2,500 to 4,000 Pacific theater sailors will train in the new facility each year, officials say.
The training is intense — sailors don full firefighting suits and self-contained breathing apparatus, lug hoses and battle flames that leap higher than 20 feet in the simulated engineering space.
As the engineering spaces were readied for the first fire-fighting team, flames jumped from 10 feet to 15 feet.
“That’s only at 40 percent,” Senior Chief Petty Officer Kenny Berryman, an Afloat Training Group trainer, said as he showed the facility to a Yokosuka base fire department official.