Fires, Floods and Fixes – How the Damage Controlman Keeps us Safe

 

Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Pope, a damage controlman and fire fighter assigned to the Coast Guard Training Center Cape May Fire House, poses for a photograph next to the station’s fire engine on March 26, 2018.

One part firefighter, one part carpenter, one part plumber, one part welder and a whole lot of knowledge to keep crews safe when the trouble hits the fan. The Damage Controlman, or the DC rating, is comprised of Coast Guard members who are the specially trained to keep personnel, vessels and facilities safe.

On the sea, DC’s teach their shipmates how to combat worst-case scenarios such as fires and flooding, but they also help maintain the ship when things break and perform other essential jobs like fixing broken water and sewage lines, providing an absolutely essential service to all aboard. On the shore-side, DC’s help units by either assisting with repairs on smaller cutters or being assigned to a shore side facilities job where they could perform maintenance or construction.

 

Petty Officer 2nd Class Meghan Richter works her way through checklists preparing for a firefighting drill aboard the 155-foot Coast Guard Cutter Rollin Fritch homeported in Cape May, New Jersey, March 28, 2018.

“We are a jack-of-all-trades, with a lot of creativity,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Meghan Richter. “On the ship, my job when we leave the pier is to make sure in the event something was to go wrong, everyone knows where to go and how to communicate and combat a casualty.”

Richter is a DC assigned to the 155-foot Coast Guard Cutter Rollin Fritch, based out of Cape May New Jersey. She says the DC rate isn’t what it appears at first glance to many people – the job requires members often to think outside the box to resolve issues using the training they have learned, but even more important and enjoyable to her is the teaching and communication aspects of being a DC.

“It’s my job to be a subject matter expert, but I can’t fight fires completely by myself – I need to pass my knowledge on so everyone here can work as a team,” said Richter. “In a fire I act as a locker leader to make sure the fire is being fought correctly. I love teaching people and I think it’s a really important job in the Coast Guard.”

Richter performs an independent duty as the only DC aboard the Rollin Fritch, which conducts duties such as law enforcement operations to search and rescue – so there is a lot of responsibility for her to know how keep the crew safe at sea, and more importantly teach them how to do the same.

So what does a DC learn in their training? Richter says the training school focuses on plumbing, learning to combat fires and flooding, carpentry and learning to weld – all the things needed to help save a crew and cutter in the case of an emergency. All the jobs, interestingly enough, have their genesis from the oldest days of sailing when ships had carpenters aboard who were needed to patch holes after battles and when the ship sustained damage. As the years went by and technology shifted, welding and firefighting were folded into the mix and in 1948, it was officially merged as the DC rate in the Coast Guard.

Crewmembers of the Coast Guard Cutter Rollin Fritch prepare to investigate a mock-fire aboard the cutter in a series of drills on March 28, 2018.

Being a DC goes far beyond simply learning valuable trade skills at training school, says Master Chief William Jette, the Damage Control Rating Force Master Chief with over 30 years on the job. Jette says the job requires a person to be able to relate safety issues to crewmembers and in many ways act like a fire marshal – but what’s more, he says, are the opportunities that exist in the field.

“There are many opportunities and variety in the DC rate,” said Jette. “DC’s are stationed on anything from inland river tending boats doing buoy tender operations, to larger ships conducting Coast Guard missions offshore such as search and rescue and law enforcement.”

Jette says the DC rate is one that is challenging but rewarding as no two jobs are exactly the same, and often times a member will be relied upon to be the advisor to the command and crew on safety and damage repair issues as well as helping new members get qualified to combat shipboard disasters at sea, or even become certified at one of the Coast Guard’s fire houses, like the one in Cape May, New Jersey.

Anthony Pope is a DC stationed at the Coast Guard Training Center Cape May Fire House, where Coast Guard recruits go through an eight-week basic training regime. At the fire house, Pope, along with his friends and colleagues, are trained as first responders and fire fighters as well. Crews could be driving an ambulance or a fire truck depending on the emergency. Pope says he loves the opportunity to work at the fire house and it has given him the opportunity to obtain certifications for firefighting that are accepted nation-wide.

“Being a firefighter was something I really never had on my radar,” said Pope. “A lot of people who get into it know they wanted to do it for their whole lives. I had a friend in San Diego who I discussed it with and I put in for the opportunity to transfer to the fire house in Cape May.”

Pope dipped his toes in the first responder waters when he was first stationed at the Cape May firehouse. He said one of his first cases was driving a person to the hospital who had collapsed from a diabetic issue, where they were treated right in front of him and quickly recovered.

“It’s was scary at first when you realize you’re actually doing this and helping someone,” said Pope. “But then when it’s over you feel amazing.”

Pope says that the opportunity to go to the TRACEN Cape May Firehouse has, in many ways, given him a direction in life he hadn’t had before. Pope is pursuing certifications which will allow him to transition out of the Coast Guard and pursue a more in-depth firefighting career as a civilian. Pope said the Damage Control rate has given him the foundation he needs to transition out of the Coast Guard and pursue a passion to help people, though he is grateful for the experience the Coast Guard has provided him.

“This is a job which, to me, means hard work, and because of that we take care of each other,” said Pope. “DC’s are, in my experience, great people who share information with each other so someone tackling a problem somewhere else can learn from them. This job teaches you to remain calm and think quickly.”

Jette, Pope and Richter all speak highly of the camaraderie between fellow DC’s, and where they all come together is that to them, the safety of the crew is important, and they find a tremendous amount of satisfaction in what they do, as well as share the job with their reserve counterparts. Jette says there are currently 118 Damage Control reservists serving in the Coast Guard.

“Whether you decide to be a DC for five, 15, 20, or 30 years, the one thing anyone should take away from the DC rate is that it’s fun and challenging,” said Jette. “There are a lot of opportunities and you’re going to have a real great time performing all of the different jobs while doing the Coast Guard’s missions.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Meghan Richter, a Damage Controlman aboard the 155-foot Coast Guard Cutter Rollin Fritch, poses for a photo on March 28, 2018.

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