Gruelling survival course prepares sailors for worst

Much of the survival course centres on fire-fighting procedures. Picture: Elle Borgward d412312
Much of the survival course centres on fire-fighting procedures. Picture: Elle Borgward d412312

Three explosions rent the air and torrents of water start flooding in through a hole in the hull.

Word of the leak reaches the command post and personnel scramble from the upper decks, where they’ve only just finished fighting a fire sparked by an earlier attack.

Sailors saw wood to shore up the vessel’s hatch, which is carried into the bowels of the ship through water that’s neck high and rising to help the surviving crew patch the hole.

The missile attack has damaged the main fire fighting water line and if they’re hit by the enemy again or the fire re-ignites, they won’t have any water to douse it. They’ve been under attack for almost two hours and are running on adrenalin.

Welcome to HMAS Stirling’s Royal Australian Navy School of Survivability and Ship Safety.

More than 1500 sailors from the Army and Navy have been put through their paces at the school this year.

Today is the final assessment for 24 sailors undertaking the Advanced Combat Survivability Course, two weeks of training in advanced fire fighting, damage control and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence which is the next step up from the Basic Combat Survivability Course training all oceangoing RAN personnel are required to complete.

Damage Control Instructors are also undertaking training so they can conduct on-ship instruction.

School of Survivability and Ship Safety training manager, Warrant Officer John Scarfe, says the training (a week in the classroom and a week of practical training) helps officers and sailors learn to be leaders, how to lead fire teams and how to take control of fires on both ships and submarines.

‘We’ve got a mock-up of a ship here, three storeys, first we’ve got the fire side of it where we can (simulate) galley fires, switchboard fires and engineering/ machinery space fires,’ he said. ‘They learn how to get dressed properly for the initial attack, about going in with a fire extinguisher, right through to that fire going out of control in the engine room, or a whole galley where a deep fat fryer full of oil has exploded.

‘The whole compartment is on fire. If they can’t put it out with initial fire extinguishers, they get pushed back ‘font style=”font-size: 8pt;”>Seaman Ben Harper (19), from Queensland, is one of the young men in the hut today, learning the ropes in the control room as a supplement to his usual marine engineer training. ‘What they’ve done today is simulating being hit by a missile, aeroplanes are coming in, we have two fires and flooding in the flood unit,’ he said.

‘They come through a rolling aggressive attack with different parties that fight the fire in different ways.

‘It’s pretty intense but it’s awesome fun. The compartments in the simulator reach up to around 300C or 350C so it’s pretty hot.’

Brisbane native and trainee submariner Seaman Kyara Beaton (25) is the safety person in the unit today.

She joined the submariners because they were ‘really awesome ‘ing up the scenarios.

“They have portable smoke machines using the same machines we have here and they can fill compartments with smoke and simulate that there is a fire. (The difference is) here we have areas where we actually have live fires and floods in there.’

As RAN personnel progress up to becoming Leading Seamen and Officers, they must complete the Advanced Combat Survivability Course and all personnel of this rank and above ” all the way to Commanders ” must re-take a week-long version of the course if they’ve been ashore for more than three years and want to get back on a ship.

‘It’s continuous training because once that vessel leaves the wharf we’re like a little floating city, we have to make our own fresh water, our own power, look after our own sewerage system.

‘We’ve got the motel and the restaurant on board, it’s your home out there.

‘You can’t call the fire brigade, you can’t go anywhere, you’re boxed in, the water could be hundreds
of kilometres deep. You’ve got to sort it out and stay afloat.’