The first thing you have to know is when you are sailing and for what reason. If you are going out on a deployment or for a major exercise, you were required to be on stable ship’s power 72 hours before sailing, to give a fair amount of time for the electronics types to tweak their gear and for the radiomen to have shifted over to the message traffic frequencies. (Message traffic for the ships that were in port was handled by the ashore communications station.) Which means that you have to light fires at least four hours before that time, unless you’re going to cheat on the 72 hours. If your sailing time is 0800, you are going to cheat, just to be fair to the engineers. If you are going out for a short exercise, then you light off the day before.
The division officers and chiefs for B, M and E divisions have to draw up an in-port steaming watch bill for the approval of the Chief Engineer, so that everyone knows when they are on duty. Unlike cold-iron conditions, the Duty Engineer must be an EOOW.
You need to make sure that the feedwater tanks are at 100%. You can’t just fill them from the potable water lines feeding the ships at the piers, feedwater is deionized to prevent any contamination of the boilers. So you need to get the deionization truck, known as the “Culligan truck”, to filter the potable water from the piers and feed it to the tanks.
And finally, you want to light fires during the day, for you want to make sure you have an awake and alert team on duty.
The Water King will do a series of tests on the light-off boiler to make sure the chemistry is within limits. He may have to treat the boiler before light-off or soon after. In a worse-case scenario, he may recommend dumping the boiler and refilling it (call the Culligan truck). The Oil King will check the fuel oil service tank for contamination. The chiefs of each machinery space will do a check to make sure that no vital equipment is out of commission and that all of the “red tags” and “yellow tags” that need to be cleared are cleared.
The fireroom crew has to run a “man aloft” chit to make sure that all of the radars on the ship and any ships nested alongside are shut down. Any rotating radar antennas have to be secured. This has to be done because the BTs must now climb the stacks to remove the herculite stack covers, which keep rain from falling into the stacks when the boilers are offline (and rusting out the insides of the stacks and the economizers on the boilers).
By now, you might be wondering how anyone can keep track of this, for the preparations for lighting off take hours, if not more than a day. The answer is by the use of a set of procedures known as the Engineering Operational Sequencing System, or EOSS. EOSS is a series of laminated checklists in looseleaf binders with laminated pages for every watch station in the plant. If you go to start up or shut down any piece of machinery in the plant, there is an EOSS checklist for it.
The fireroom crew now is in its final preparations with the light-off watch on station. They start the fuel oil pump, which begins to circulate fuel oil from the fuel oil service tank to the burner front of the boiler and back to the service tank. When the lines are up to pressure, they are very carefully checked for leaks. Fuel is recirculated from now on, though the supply lines to the individual burner are closed. They start the electric forced draft blower to feed air through the air casing around the boiler and into the firebox through the vanes around each burner. The air casing must be pressurized to a certain number (measured in “inches of water”, not PSI) for a specified minimum time before lighting off.
Now we are ready to light fires.
The fireroom watch is in place. The light-off is done under the command of the BTOW. The EOOW must also be present. When lighting fires, only two sailors are permitted in the “firing alley”, the lowest level catwalk which runs in front of the firebox, the Burnerman and the sailor who is assisting in the light-off, usually the Lower Levelman. The Burnerman is wearing a welder’s jacket, a faceshield and welder’s gloves. The light-off torch is made of metal round stock about 1/4" thick and it is about six feet long. On one end, some rags are wrapped with bailing wire to the torch and soaked with fuel oil. There is a round metal shield that slides along most of the length of the torch. The other end of the torch ends in a triangular handgrip.
The Burrnerman’s assistant lights the torch, using a Zippo lighter, never a match or a butane lighter.* The Burnerman turns the torch to make sure the torch is burning properly and then pronounces that he is ready. The vanes feeding air to the firebox are closed to prevent blowing out the torch. On the order of the BTOW, the torch is inserted as far as it will go through the light-off-port; the port cover is then closed as much as possible onto the shaft of the torch. Between the port cover being mostly closed, the safety gear worn by the Burnerman and the round shield on the torch, the Burnerman is well-protected against a flareback, when a boiler being lit off shoots flames out the light-off port.
The Burnerman looks through the burner’s observation port and checks to see if the torch is burning. “Torch still lit” is the announcement everyone wants to hear.
The BTOW commands: “Light fires, 1A Boiler.”
The Burnerman opens the burner’s fuel valve. The Lower Levelman then opens the feed valve to the burrnerfront and starts loudly chanting: "One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three.” If by the time he finishes his count, the Burnerman hasn’t yelled “Fires lit,” the Lower Levelman will shut off the feed valve. In that case, the torch is withdrawn and extinguished, then a periscope is inserted into the light-off port to inspect for spilled fuel oil. In a bad case, the burnerfront will have to be opened and people sent in to clean up the oil, but usually you only have to re-purge the firebox.
“Fires lit, 1A Boiler!” The Burnerman fans the air supply vanes open and shut to make sure that the burner is stable and stays lit. The Lowerlevelman opens the fuel supply valve the rest of the way and secures the return valve to the service tank. The Burnerman removes the torch and shoves it into the torch holder (a long pipe closed on the far end), which extinguishes it. The BTOW calls “fires lit” on the intercom throughout the hot plant, the MMOW in Main Control logs it in the Engineering Log and announces that hearing protection must be work in the plant. The MMOW calls the DC Central watch, which, in turn, calls the Quarterdeck to inform the Officer of the Deck. The Petty Officer of the Watch logs it in the ship’s Deck Log.
And now the fun begins.
* The use of a Zippo was by regulation, not by custom. There was likely a good reason for it, though I never was told why.
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