They are cooks, stewards, stokers, boatswains and electric technician sailors, barely any of them above the rank of an Able Seaman but they are the people that one of the largest ships in the fleet rely on to be able to react to a fire, flood or toxic hazard in under three minutes.
They need to know the emergency stops, fuel trips, adjacent compartments, hose set up and layout, of the entire ship onboard HMAS Choules. They need to know what to look out for, how to attack different classes of fire, what to use under pressure and what to report. The team is known to the crew onboard HMAS Choules as “Standing Sea” - their official title is Standing Sea Fire and Emergency Party.
Able Seaman Electric Technician Jolyon (Jolly) Saunders says the ship relies on teamwork and trust to get the job done.
“It’s good to be part of a team when you can trust everyone to know what to do.”
Choules is not tiny, she weighs 16 000 tonnes, is 176 metres long and is capable of carrying 356 troops (700 for an overloaded capacity), 23 Abrams tanks, 150 light trucks, landing craft, and various Army and Navy helicopters including the MRH90, Army’s Black Hawk and the Sea Hawk. She has 10 decks, and 20 flights of stairs from top to bottom. Bearing this in mind, it’s easy to understand that when the team hear an alarm, from anywhere on the ship, they get going and all their crew mates either get out of their way or help them on their way.
Able Seaman Maritime Logistics-Support Operations Benjamin Lindsay says the daily training at sea is a perfect rehearsal for the unlikely reality of seagoing emergencies.
“Being a member of Standing Sea prepares you for the unexpected,” he said.
What makes this team different is the damage control equipment and the procedures they need to learn and use onboard Choules.
Choules was originally commissioned as part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary on 28 November 2006 as RFA Largs Bay. She had already proven herself with the capability of humanitarian relief as part of the international response to the Haiti earthquake in 2010.
After the UK Strategic Defence and Security Review earmarked Largs Bay as one of the vessels to be removed from service, Australia purchased her and renamed her Australian Defence Force Ship Choules until her commissioning on 13 December 2011, named after the late Petty Officer Claude Choules, the last military veteran who served in both World Wars.
The ship, being an original Royal Navy ship, has different first aid fire fighting appliances including fire extinguishers and centre-fed hose reels, emergency escape breathing devices, breathing apparatus, and fire fighting nozzles and hose layouts—different to every other ship in the Royal Australian Navy. The change to the type of fire fighting nozzles alone means the techniques used for fighting fires and re-entry to compartments onboard Choules needs to be trained and re-trained to the ship’s crew.
This is where Choules’ Standing Sea members step it up a notch. They hold circuit training for the ship’s company onboard Choules, re-visiting the unique systems and fire fighting appliances onboard.
Recently, Choules’ Standing Sea held round robin training for fixed fire fighting systems in various compartments onboard, including the heli-fuel pump room, the galley, the emergency diesel generator, the paint store, the oil and grease store and the boiler room.
This team is lead by the ship’s Physical Trainer, Petty Officer Matthew Wildin, who has spent time on the other larger ship in the Royal Australian Navy, including HMA Ships Hobart, Melbourne, Toowoomba and Kanimbla. He says his team get worked hard and are expected to take on the additional training burden but they do it with pride:
“Since assuming the team leader role there have been several positional changes which require the team to re train and become familiar with each other," he said.
"Each member plays a pivotal role in this organisation and it is with great confidence to say that they are the initial response to any emergency on board and the ship should feel safe with them knowing they will respond accordingly.”
The two first 'Aid Attack' members, who need to get to the scene and conduct initial attack within one minute, are Able Seaman Marine Logistics-Stores Naval Jacque Simms and Seaman Boatswains Mate Timothy Long.
The second two to make and entry are 'Breathing Apparatus Portable' —who can also use the hose reels onboard to attack a fire but must be making or ready to make an entry within three minutes from the time of the alarm, and are Able Seaman Peta Large and Private Guy Erskine.
The Breathing Apparatus Hose team follow and are Able Seaman Electrical Technician David Kennedy, Seaman Electrical Technician Nathan Brown and Able Seaman Electrical Technician Jolyon Saunders. This team need to be ready for entry to the fire dressed in full fire fighting rig within seven minutes from the time of the alarm. There is also the communications plotter who musters at 'Head Quarters One' known to most ships as Damage Control Centre, and the two Marine Technician sailors, who conduct electrical. power, water and ventilation isolations as required, Able Seaman Marine Technician Wayne Colquhoun (Isolations Member Number One) and Seaman Jason Smith (Isolations Member Number Two).
The team work every day to hone their skills as the first response to any shipborne emergency. Teams like this are replicated across every ship and boat in the fleet and become the subquect matter experts in damage control techniques which are practiced by all members of the Navy when at sea.