By CAROL COMEGNO
The Haddonfield Symphony will commission a composition
A workman was disassembling a paint sprayer inside a
World War II museum ship in Texas last week when he created
a spark, igniting fumes from a nearby can of paint
The fire that broke out inside the flag bridge on the
superstructure of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, in
Corpus Christi, became so intense it melted some of the
ship's steel and destroyed the room. Luckily, the workman
escaped and no visitors were on the ship at the time.
Museum officials said local firefighters and staff had no
shipboard firefighting expertise and had difficulty getting
water to that upper deck quickly enough to extinguish the
fire with minimal damage.
An incident like that is why the Camden Fire Department
was in Philadelphia on a retired Navy ship last week
practicing procedures for handling fires and other
emergencies that could occur on the soon-to-open battleship
USS New Jersey museum in Camden.
"Ships offer a new set of circumstances for the
firefighter. They have no windows or elevators. The
stairways are steep, inclined and in narrow spaces with
difficult-to-reach places," said Paul Price, chief of
Battalion 1 and the fire academy in Camden.
Price, who has coordinated the training with the Navy,
said the lack of windows makes ship fires more deadly
because there are no wide open spaces inside for heat and
smoke to escape. It's also easy to get lost because decks
and passageways look the same.
He said nearly 200 city firemen are learning how to
handle flooding, injured victims and victim removal, and
are being taught the layout of ships and their hazards so
they can better respond to possible emergencies aboard the
The ship is undergoing $7 million in renovations at the
Broadway Terminal but is to be moved to the downtown
Waterfront near the Aquarium for a Sept. 2 opening.
In addition to firefighters, emergency medical
technicians who run the city's ambulances and Virtua Health
paramedics are also participating in a effort to learn how
to deal with shipboard emergencies.
"Protecting the New Jersey is important not only to Camden but to the state of New Jersey and the Navy," said
Navy fire chief Kenneth Barber.
Last week, Camden firefighters snaked water hoses
between the decks and through the passageways of a guided
missile frigate - the ship that an Iraqi missile struck in
1987, killing 37 sailors.
The 445-foot-long ship - only half the length of the New
Jersey - is decommissioned and docked at the Naval Inactive
Ships Maintenance Facility near the old Navy yard. The
firefighting instructors are from the Naval Sea Systems
Engineering Station fire department that responds to
shipboard emergencies in the mothball fleet and
Philadelphia Naval Business Center.
Firefighter Joseph Tull, 32, of Camden, stood on a
ladder to hook rigging to the ceiling of the main
passageway on the main deck. The rigging was then used by
firefighters to lift and lower basket litters with a 175-
pound mannequin to train for rescues.
"It's unbelievable how narrow the spaces are on a ship.
It helps us prepare for the New Jersey," he said.
Firefighter Tony Mickles called the job "very dangerous"
not only because there is no place for smoke to go in a
closed compartment but also because of the stepping
hazards, such as the raised doorway thresholds and the need
to carry portable folding ladders wherever they go.
"We also have been told that because it's a ship,
whatever water we use to fight a fire has to be pumped out
later," Mickles said.
Tull said he can hardly wait for the battleship - largest
ever built by the United States, one of the Navy's most
decorated warships and a veteran of action in World War II,
Korea, Vietnam and Lebanon.
"It has a lot of history and will brighten up the
Waterfront," the firefighter said.