The Navy has issued recommendations aimed at preventing another fire like the one that ravaged the submarine USS Miami while it was being overhauled at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, officials said Tuesday.
A fire safety and prevention manual for all ships during construction and repair draws from lessons learned after a shipyard worker set fire to Los Angeles-class attack submarine while it was in dry dock in May 2012 in Kittery, Maine, causing damage that was so costly that the Navy decided to scrap the vessel.
Vice Adm. William Hilarides, commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command, said U.S. Navy leadership saw a need to “raise our standards and capabilities.”
“This manual is the right long-term response to the watershed event the Miami fire represents,” Hilarides said in a statement issued from headquarters in Washington.
Among other things, the manual mandates the installation of temporary automatic fire detection systems when submarines are in dry dock. It details procedures for all ships for flammable and combustible materials, fire prevention and safety inspections, and “hot work” like welding during an industrial availability.
The report, which wasn’t yet available to the public, applies to construction, repair and overhaul work at naval shipyards, private shipyard and maintenance centers.
Hilarides said organizations have some leeway, saying he expects “smart decisions to achieve an optimum balance of all the risks – fire safety, as well as cost and schedule.”
The Miami blaze started when a shipyard worker who wanted to go home set fire to a box of rags and quickly spread throughout the forward compartments of Groton, Conn.-based submarine. It took 12 hours and the efforts of more than 100 firefighters to save the submarine. Seven people were hurt, the Navy said.
The fire severely damaged the submarine’s living quarters, command and control center and torpedo room, but did not reach the nuclear propulsion components at the rear of the sub.
The Navy launched a series of investigations after the fire.
Under new procedures announced Tuesday, every ship repair and new ship construction will be required to perform an annual fire drill to test emergency response capability, the Navy said.
“It is imperative that all organizations implement the applicable requirements of this manual and ensure their fire safety and response procedures and capabilities are solid,” Hilarides said.
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