Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dugan Flynn
Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate

Five Stennis Sailors and one Marine were recognized by Stennis’ Commanding Officer Capt. Ronald Reis for being the first responders to a catastrophic engine failure that injured 11 Sailors Wednesday.

The training these responders received aboard Stennis played a direct role in their ability to handle this incident on the flight deck.

“We just acted instantaneously when it happened,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Kenneth Shaffer, the P-25 fire truck driver on the scene who, along with his team in Crash and Salvage, helped to extinguish the aircraft fire. “There wasn’t a lot of emotion at the time; it was just an adrenaline rush. Training kicked in instantly.”

While flight deck personnel worked to extinguish the fire, others began responding to the wounded shipmates in the surrounding area.

Marine Corps Cpl. Jacob Fischer of Marine Strike Fighter Training Squadron (VMFAT) 101 helped an injured Sailor with a broken leg by applying pressure to the wound until corpsmen arrived on scene to take over.

“Training put me in autopilot,” said Fischer. “I may not have consciously known what to do, but as soon as the incident happened I ran through all the events in my head. I helped medically and I’m not any sort of medic.”

Training also helped the corpsmen bypass their emotional responses and tend to injured personnel in a timely manner.

“It was a scary situation,” said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Eleysia Friend. “One of when your friend is screaming in pain, it’s hard to keep going. I just knew I had to keep going without letting my emotions take over. The training I’ve received made it possible for me to take care of these people. Everyone was so professional and our efforts were so fluid.”

The first responders worked together as a single unit. Many individuals helped to save lives that day, but it was the work of the entire team that prevented further casualties.

“It was intense,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Apprentice Mason Odegard, the senior airman on the scene. “Pretty much everyone from Crash and Salvage was there helping each other out. Everyone did what they were supposed to.”

Some may feel that training is strict and that they will never be in the position where they need to save the ship or its crew, but Wednesday’s mishap was proof that one never knows when training will be used.

“At drills, the instructors are very particular in how they grade you,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Sean Murray. “Sometimes your work is analyzed so much that you start to question your ability to do your job when a real casualty occurs, but that day something did happen. We really did have to do our jobs to save people’s lives and our entire crew did well. The training really did prepare us to handle the situation, and I didn’t doubt myself while I was working.”

Capt. Reis said everyone acted according to training and with determination.

“I am extremely proud of our crew,” said Capt. Reis. “The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is an inherently dangerous place, but our personnel are well trained to operate safely in this environment. They responded quickly, professionally, and with purpose, extinguishing the aircraft engine fire.”

Mishaps may be rare events, but the training conducted throughout the Navy prepares Sailors and Marines to handle such incidents with an immediate and appropriate response.

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