Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Panic and Hidden Confined Spaces Within Subs


A submerged submarine is always a confined space from which emergency escapes have been very limited and practiced only in tightly controlled circumstances.

Even when not submerged, submarines incorporate hidden confined spaces whose access is fairly routine though somewhat more hazardous. Accessible confined spaces within a sub are familiar to the entire crew from qualification training, routine watchstanding or related maintenance necessities (e.g. battery wells and nuclear reactor containment areas).

Many more confined spaces are hidden from ordinary sight and so are seldom seen much less entered by crew members. Storage tanks for various purposes (potable water, pure water, septic waste, oil, etc) comprise a large of the hidden confined spaces.  Maintenance requirements on the latter, except in the most dire emergency, are usually handled in shipyard environments. Although, Vigilis recalls a particularly rigorous entry conducted pierside to effect a repair in a sub's largest sanitary tank.  

We have all seen firsthand or from photos the familiar confined passageways of U.S. subs.  Aesthetic paneling, tiled deck plating and dual-purpose insulation gives sailors cramped livability.  What has been hidden are areas civilians and nonmechanical women could well do without seeing.  Here, for instance is the access to a water tank hidden somewhere in nearby an interior of USS Albany (SSN-753).

Thought it was over

As part of the procedure, one worker stays outside the tank and uses a temporary cover made of aluminum to seal the tank while the other worker sandblasts inside.

"[The cover] became stuck between the piping and the studs around the opening and could not be completely installed or removed," an official report of the incident compiled by the shipyard says. "The tank watch and the breathing air watch attempted to remove the aluminum cover from outside the tank for several minutes with no success."

“I'm in there panicking, I'm going crazy. I'm asking them please don't let me die in here and I'm shaking the tank, shaking the lid to get out and we can't get out. I can't get out.” - - Deshaun Fuller, former sandblaster, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, April 23, 2014.

Medical records show Fuller now suffers from anxiety as a result of the accident, and no longer works as a sandblaster. He is now a shipyard electrician. 

"The current emergency and rescue procedures contained in reference (c) require that the NNSY rescue team (Navy Region Fire and Rescue) be called any time someone is in distress in a confined space," the bulletin says.

A spokesman for Norfolk Naval Shipyard responded to 13News Now's request for comment late Monday afternoon:

"During the time the employee was in the potable water tank, he was in constant communication with Tank Watch and Breathing Air Watch personnel, and was provided water. Further, the cover did not fully block the opening which allowed both watches to remain in visual contact with the employee and monitor and ensure the person's well-being.  more

Submarines are always silent and strange.

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