The US Navy yesterday released two reports on the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) on July 12, 2020, which caused such extensive damage that it was subsequently decided to decommission the vessel. The reports released are of the results of a U.S. Pacific Fleet Command investigation and a review of major fires commissioned by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations that examined all major fires in the Navy over the 12 last years.
Even in the redacted form published by the Navy, the reports carry little weight.
The Navy convened the PACFLT Command investigation of the USS Bonhomme Richard to specifically examine all the causal and contributing factors to the fire which resulted in the total loss of the vessel.
There were four categories of causal factors which allowed the accumulation of significant risks and led to an ineffective fire response: the condition of the ship’s materials, the training and readiness of the ship’s crew. , integration between the ship and support to shore-based firefighting organizations and oversight by commanders of several organizations. The command’s investigation also concluded that “a lack of familiarity with the requirements and failure to follow procedures at multiple levels of command” contributed to the loss of the vessel.
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Lescher underscored the Navy’s commitment to making urgent and necessary changes to address the shortcomings and root causes that led to the Bonhomme Richard fire.
“The loss of this vessel was completely preventable,” Lescher said. “And the Navy is executing a deliberative process that includes taking appropriate accountability measures with respect to personnel assigned to Bonhomme Richard and shore-based controls designed to support the ship docked at Naval Base San Diego.”
Lescher has designated the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet as the consolidated disputing authority to handle administrative and disciplinary actions relating to the military. Recommendations regarding civilian employees will be forwarded to the relevant supervisor for action.
Based on a separate criminal investigation, the commander of the US 3rd Fleet filed a complaint against a sailor charged with aggravated arson and endangering a ship. A preliminary hearing for the sailor is scheduled for mid-November.
FINDINGS AND OPINIONS
The PACFLT investigation resulted in over 1,000 findings of fact associated with the fire, resulting in 242 opinions based on those findings, 139 recommendations for corrective action by various organizations at different levels of the Navy and to the list of 36 people recommended for accountability action, some of whom are named in the report and some whose names have been redacted.
Here is just a brief excerpt from the “Opinions” chapter of the report:
“Trace the causal link with this fire and the loss of Bonhomme Richard begins at the unit level and extends to the oversight, programming, policy and resource considerations that, at a minimum, contributed to this incident. This section provides opinions and analysis across this spectrum. Overall, four focus areas determined the end result:
detection capability, communication equipment, fire fighting systems on board ships, various congestion and accumulation of combustible materials. To illustrate the extent of the degradation, on the morning of the fire, 87% of the ship’s fire stations remained in a state of maintenance with inactive equipment.
- Training and preparation. Ship’s Force training and readiness was marked by a series of failed exercises, minimal crew participation, lack of basic knowledge of firefighting in an industrial environment, and lack of awareness how to integrate civilian support firefighters. To illustrate this point, the crew did not meet the time standard to apply a firefighter to the seat of the fire on 14 consecutive occasions until July 12, 2020.
- Support for the establishment on land. The integration and support expected by the shore establishment did not meet the required standards. The Southwest Regional Maintenance Center (SWRMC) failed to meet its fire safety requirements and in so doing failed to communicate the risks to management while facilitating absolute deviations from technical guidelines. The San Diego Naval Base (NBSD) was unsuccessful in ensuring its civilian firefighters were aware of Navy ships on the facility, verifying that they were trained to respond to a fire aboard a ship or train effectively to support
- Monitoring. Ineffective oversight by savvy commanders of various organizations allowed their subordinates to take absolute risks in fire preparedness. An important source of this problem was the lack of codification of the roles and responsibilities expected by each organization in carrying out its oversight.
Lack of familiarity with key policies and requirements as well as procedural non-compliance at all levels of command, from unit level to program, policy and resource decisions, were common to all four areas. intervention.
MERITORIOUS PERFORMANCE OF DUTIES
On the other side of the coin, the report recognized the “bravery, ingenuity and ingenuity in the actions of sailors across the San Diego waterfront and others who played a role in the response. “, and identified 10 commendable performance recommendations for actions taken during firefighting efforts.
MAJOR FIRE REVIEW
Along with the results of Bonhomme Richard’s investigation, the Navy also published the results of the Major Fires Review, commissioned in January 2021 by the VCNO. A comprehensive historical review of major fires aboard ships in the United States Navy, the Major Fires Review aimed to identify recurring trends in the causal factors of 15 major fires aboard ships in the past 12 years.
The in-depth review included 12 major findings contributing to a current state of high risk for vessels on maintenance standby with seven strategic recommendations for corrective actions.
The review of major fires revealed that ineffective learning, the persistence of underlying weaknesses in ship watch standards, stowage of hazardous materials and fuels, and training were the major issues contributing to the lack of lasting change and fires on board ships.
You can download the Command Investigation of the USS Bonhomme Richard and Major Fires Review documents in the Navy FOIA Reading Room.