Thursday, June 26, 2008

Damage Control Organization: the DCPO

This post will begin the topic of damage control readiness. There were several facets to damage control readiness. In-port damage control was different from at-sea damage control. There were differences between who maintained the major stores of damage control equipment and who maintained the damage control equipment that was scattered about the ship. This post will talk about the latter point: Shipwide damage control maintenance.

Every part of the ship was sectioned off into the responsibilities of different divisions, which was generally done during pre-commissioning and then set in stone for the life of the ship. Generally, if a space contained mainly the equipment or machinery of a division, that division maintained the space, including all of the damage control equipment in the space. On a bulkhead of every space was a sign which gave the space designation (another time) and the division responsible.

That division was responsible for the cleanliness and preservation of that space and any fanrooms that had an access door into the space (“fanrooms” were part of the HVAC system, they were where the vent fans and heat exchangers were located, they were also a place to go hide to cop a nap). That division had to maintain the damage control equipment in the space, which included fire extinguishers, fire hoses, doors and, most importantly, watertight closures. Of course, there were watertight doors and hatches at bulkheads and decks that were the boundary lines between divisions. The rule here was that if the hatch or door opened into your space, you owned it.

One or two sailors from each division was assigned the full-time job of maintaining the damage control equipment in the division. The sailors were known as “Damage Control Petty Officers” and they served six-month tours as DCPOs. Other than their watches, the DCPOs worked for the Damage Control Assistant. The DCA and the senior enlisted of R division supervised the work of the DCPOs. The DCPOs also were spot-checked by their regular division officer.

Some of the work was relatively easy. Fire extinguishers had to be periodically weighed. Fire hoses had to be hydrostatically tested, but not terribly often, and the test dates were stenciled on the hoses. The DCPOs biggest headaches were the doors.

(By the way: "Hatches" are openings between decks, you climb up and down through a hatch. "Doors" are openings between compartments located on the same deck, you walk through a door. "Scuttles" are small round openings that you have to squeeze through; they are generally set in hatches, but not always. Calling a "door" a "hatch" is a landsman's mistake.)

The worst headache were the non-watertight doors, known as “joiner doors.” Most joiner doors had hydraulic door closers on them, just as you’d find on a screen door. Some of them were opened and closed several hundred times a day and they just got beat to shit. They were also high-visibility items for the XO, who would get viciously sarcastic if they were not working.

Closing a watertight door or hatch was known as “dogging it down.” Watertight hatches were dogged down by bolts that swung up from the hatch combing to engage recesses in the hatch. Obviously, hatches could not be opened from below, so every hatch had a scuttle in it that could be opened from either side. The scuttles were generally 18" in diameter; if you were too fat to fit through a scuttle, that could be a real problem. Hatches inside the ship were left open unless the ship was at battle stations. It took at least two sailors to safely open and close a hatch, as one had to hold the hatch up while the other either connected or disconnected the two metal poles that held the hatch open. (To prevent the support poles from being jarred lose, they were held in place with toggle pins, as having a hatch slam down on you would really fuck up your day, possibly forever.) In an emergency, one sailor could pull the locking pins, kick out the supports and let the hatch slam down, but that was very heavily frowned upon.

Watertight doors were either quick-acting or not. A quick-acting watertight door (QAWTD) had a lever or a wheel that was connected to the dogging levers, which pulled the door tight. The doors that were not, just known as "watertight doors" had individual dogging levers set around the frame of the door.

The QATD is on the right, the WTD is on the left.

The dogging levers could be operated from either side of the door and were tightened with a “dogging wrench,” which was a short section of pipe that fit over the end of the lever. The dogging levers on all types of watertight doors had to be kept adjusted so that when the door was dogged down, there was even pressure on the gaskets. The rubber gaskets around the edges of the hatches and doors had to be kept lightly lubricated with petroleum jelly to keep them in good condition and they were replaced at the first sign of deterioration.

The DCPOs who did the best jobs were basically invisible, for like everything in Engineering, if it worked right and was reliable, nobody really paid it much notice. But if it didn’t work, there was hell to pay. Damage control gear that didn’t work could cost lives and possibly result in the loss of the ship. Smart officers paid attention to damage control and frequently spot-checked the work of the DCPOs, which had the additional benefit of letting the DCPOs know that their work was important and was appreciated.

1 comment: