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Sailors honored for averting disaster on Comstock

Aug. 19, 2013 - 11:51AM   |  
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EVANSVILLE, IND. — The Navy is crediting quick thinking and actions of two Evansville sailors with averting a fire disaster on their ship and has awarded them medals.

Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Charles Midkiff and Engineman 2nd Class Damon Collins are stationed on the Comstock, a dock landing ship currently in San Diego.

Midkiff and Collins joined the Navy in August 2009 after graduating Central High School. In January 2010, after completing their technical training, they were assigned to the Comstock LSD-45, said ship Command Master Chief Damon Anthony.

The men were awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, which is designed to recognize service above and beyond the call of duty, Anthony told the Evansville Courier & Press.

“These two sailors truly displayed the Navy’s core values of ‘Honor, Courage, and Commitment’ in how they handled this situation,” said Capt. Ronald Ravelo, the ship’s commanding officer.

Anthony said the incident happened at about midnight July 27 while Midkiff was making his rounds on a roving watch. As the roving watch, Midkiff was responsible for monitoring the ship’s engineering spaces, including engine rooms.

Midkiff noticed a burning rubber smell coming from one of the engine rooms and discovered an electrical fire in a switch panel on one of the ship’s fire pumps — one of five pumps designed to deliver 1,100 gallons per minute of seawater in the ship’s firefighting system, Anthony said. The fire was caused by water leaking from a pipe above the electrical panel.

Midkiff notified Collins, who was on watch as the ship’s Damage Control Central supervisor that night, Anthony said. He arrived on the scene, and the two immediately rigged firefighting equipment and began combating residual fire in the electrical panel by tripping circuit breakers feeding electricity to the main switchboards in the space, and subsequently the entire ship.

Losing electrical power from the pier to the ship caused one of the ship’s generators to start. Operating the generators and their associated equipment usually requires several people more senior and experienced than Midkiff and Collins, Anthony said, but the men didn’t hesitate.

“By operating the machinery safely and correctly, they ensured the fire in the electrical panel remained extinguished while simultaneously ensuring uninterrupted electricity for other critical shipboard systems,” Anthony said.

The potential for damage to the ship was high, Anthony said.

“The damage that could have been unleashed by a major conflagration would have resulted in millions of dollars of damage,” he said.

Only about a sixth of the ship’s 360-person crew were onboard and available to help, and the ship’s fuel tanks were just a few feet from the fire.

Ravelo said a fire on the Miami last year while it was docked in a similar shipyard environment caused $450 million in damage.

“The quick thinking and deliberate actions of these two sailors likely saved the lives of their shipmates and ultimately saved our country what would have been millions of dollars’ worth of damage,” Ravelo said. “When I was initially notified of the fire, visions of that disaster quickly came to mind. Fortunately, these fine sailors’ training and instincts kicked in, and they quickly averted a similar disaster.”

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