Near the end of his propulsion electrician watch on April 7 and in the middle of his last hourly patrol of his inspection route, Electricians Mate Nuclear 2nd Class Lucas Leosewski caught the smell.
Sharp, acrid — an electrical fire on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
“You could tell immediately what it was,” he said. “I followed my nose and it led me to a transformer that was billowing smoke” the next deck up.
“I didn’t freak out. But yeah, the adrenaline started straight away. But I knew what I had to do. I knew who I had to tell and I just did it.”
And so set off the response to one of the biggest worries of any sailor, especially on a ship like the Eisenhower that’s in the shipyard for maintenance and repair work.
Leosewski raced for the nearest communications handset to call in the fire. He rattled off his report, per the book: Fire. Electrical. White Smoke, deck and space number.
Then, he started the sprint, halfway along the 1,090-foot length of the carrier, to the control center where he could cut power to that part of the electrical system.
“We drill on this all the time; load center drill every week I’ve been on the ship,” Leosewski said. “Three years, every week.”
This time, shipmate John Hart, an Electricians Mate Nuclear 3rd Class, was closer to the load center.
“I was able to immediately shut down load center 11,” said Hart. “I know Leosewski would be running back to turn it off himself, but I reported that I was in the area and shut it down. This is why we do so many drills. We’ve practiced this countless times.”
At the same time, Airman Djenane Angrand was walking down the tunnel between an aircraft maintenance department space and the hangar deck, where she was to join a routine fire drill when she spotted the smoke.
“I was confused at first,” she said. “I got a closer look and realized there was a fire, and I was a little nervous. I ran back to the hangar bay where duty section was practicing for a fire drill and reported it.”
Within a minute, the alert was echoing throughout the ship and the In-Port Emergency Team was racing to the transformer that Leosewski had pinpointed.
Hart killed the heat source that started the fire, but the firefighting team needed to make sure that the overheated wires hadn’t ignited anything else.
Fire hazards increase when a ship is in the yard. There’s lots of “hot work” — welding and metal-cutting — and not as many sailors on station. Firefighting gear isn’t always in its usual space, too. Typically, the sailors who are on board start a spell in the yard on high alert, but halfway through an incident-free 13-month shipyard stay, the Eisenhower’s sailors hadn’t grown complacent.
“When a piece of equipment fails, as in this incident, or some other process of prevention fails, we depend on sailors to recognize the casualty and muster the duty section to attack and overwhelm it,” said Capt. Paul Campagna, the Eisenhower’s commanding officer. “That’s what these sailors did.”
He awarded them Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals — and Rear Admiral John F. Meier, commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic came by to give his personal thanks.
“We spend all of our time and energy trying to prevent fires. The key to that is the veracity of our response, the immediacy of detecting something like that makes all the difference in the world,” Meier said.
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