[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007]

April 23

One day I was in the wardroom and PO Karl Griffin and YN3 Dottie Davies were taking their basic DC PQS test. I asked Karl how he thought he did. “I think I missed three,” he said. Afterward, ENS Greg Vera went over their tests with them and there was serious groaning. “I knew that!” Karl says about PECU (p.101 of my Damage Control Handbook, Portable Exothermic Cutting Unit, cuts through steel, aluminum, stainless steel, cast iron, insulated wiring and piping). Dottie nodded in agreement, but they both passed their tests.

PQS test

So tonight at 1900 they were both on the mess deck, listening to DC2 Shawn Green teach advanced DC PQS. Tonight it’s about kinds of fires, how they behave and how to fight them as a team. A nozzleman, in case you didn’t know, mans the nozzle on the fire hose. “No more, no less,” Shawn says. Somebody else on the team accesses the afflicted space. Tomorrow, the class will break into two groups and meet at Repair Lockers 1 and 2 to start actual hands-on training. I have been invited to go try on an SCBA (p.108 of my Damage Control Handbook, aha, Self-Controlled Breathing Apparatus). Stay tuned.

advanced dc class

DC PQS stands for Damage Control Personnel Qualification Standard. It is a Coast Guard wide requirement for all crew members on board ship. All 147 members of our crew must pass this test. “It ensures that our crew members are prepared to take corrective action in the event of a casualty,” Greg says, whether we have a fire, a flooding, or a CBR (chemical, biological, radioactive) attack. The training takes 65 to 75 hours total, basic and advanced. And this is after work.

DC PQS bible

Each crew member is issued a training manual the first day they report on board. Including the sign-off sheets, it’s 308 pages long. Everyone must master all the information in this manual. They must attend classes taught by the DCAs, after which each crew member will be verbally quizzed on each section, after which they get that section of their manual signed off by the EOW (Engineer of the Watch).

Basic Damage Control Communications. Basic First Aid. Basic Firefighting. Fire Watch Stander. Basic CBR Defense. Basic Damage Control. Then, after they wade through all this, they draw maps of systems specific to Munro. Greg has a notebook the last half of which is filled with meticulously drawn maps on grid paper of all of the ship’s systems. “If we have a fire in the JP-5 Pump Room,” he says, pointing, “the crew has to know where the right valve on the AFFF is to put out the fire.”

“Once they show me all their drawings,” Greg says, “once they get all their sections signed off, then they are allowed to take their DC PQS training. It’s a battle to get people qualified sometimes. It’s much easier underway, because where are they going to go?” Only 37 Munro crew members remain to be qualified, which means over two-thirds of them already are. The odds of my surviving an underway disaster appear to be pretty good.

There are a hundred questions on the basic test. “It isn’t timed,” Greg says. “If they know their stuff they’ll get qualified . I sit down with them and talk to them and if I’m comfortable with their DC knowledge, I’ll say okay, you can be an investigator, a team leader, or a even locker leader, the overall supervisor of the repair locker. You expect a little more out of them.”

It isn’t all about the safety and security of the ship and the crew. It is also a job placement test.

Then there is advanced DC PQS training, and another test, this one likely scenario problems. “What would you do if,” Greg says. “That’s what’s even more important. If you’re going to put them on the spot, if they’re the security watch stander, all of a sudden we have a smoke alarm in the incinerator, what are you going to do?” This is what all the drills have been about.

DC Handbook

There is also a nifty little booklet called the Damage Control Handbook, the brainchild of LTJG Josh Dipietro, designed to fit perfectly into the pocket of your Coastie uniform pants. Open it up and there are the Ten Commandments of Damage Control, beginning with Thou Shalt Keep Our Ship Watertight. It’s a very handy little book. The photographs that accompany the X-Ray, Yolk and Zebra setting explanations are worth the price alone. Oh wait, everybody gets a free copy, even me.

DC PQS is basic survival for the crew underway. The introduction to the Damage Control Handbook ends, “When we are in danger, we do not have the option to call 911. Joe the Fireman is not at the station down the street. You are the one who will make the difference between living, dying or swimming.”

On the mess deck, Shawn is even more blunt. “We are expendable. The ship is not.”

Click here to order a copy.


Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

8 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Hi Dana,
    Just finished Blindfold Game – it was great! For those of us who know nothing about seamanship, in your next book, could you include a glossary of terms? My husband and I will be in Anchorage on May 26 & 27th. Was poking around looking for your favorite haunts on the website, but don’t seem to see it. Will you be in town? Would love to take you out for coffee! Ya, right, like you’d have time . So where should we go for coffee in Anchorage? And your other fav haunts? Jacqi

  2. Thanks for the offer, Jacqi, but I actually live 200 miles south of Anchorage, and I’ll be in Ireland then anyway, soo….you’ll just have to go to Cafe del Mundo on Benson Boulevard or City Market at 13th and I without me. Enjoy!

  3. My husband’s famous now, you’ve mentioned him by name! Only it’s spelled Shawn (you can blame his mother for that). 2 brothers, both good Irish names, both spelled unconventionally. Baby’s crying got to go. Syntha

  4. His teaching style is very, shall we say, direct. It definitely gets and holds your attention. Considering what he’s training the crew for, that’s an asset. For one thing, it’s really noisy on the mess deck.

    PS–I fixed his name. Sorry about that.

  5. Dana,

    Thank you for this particular entry.
    Everyone should know how well equipped the Coast Guard is. My son Chris had talked at length about the qualifying process, the drawings, the tests. I cannot believe they can remember all those details, but it is the difference at
    sea between life and disaster.

    Judi Hernandez

    PS Tell the crew hardly a day seems to go by when we don’t see the USCG on Fox news. Rescues, searches, drug busts; they are right there in the thick of it!

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