The ultimate evacuation

Published on LEUT Lana Emery (author), Unknown (photographer)

Location(s): Fleet Base East

Topic(s): HMAS Choules (L100), Damage Control Exercise

The ship's company of HMAS Choules have been exercising alongside personnel from Fire and Rescue New South Wales in a series of damage control exercises held at Fleet Base East. (photo: Unknown)
The ship's company of HMAS Choules have been exercising alongside personnel from Fire and Rescue New South Wales in a series of damage control exercises held at Fleet Base East.

HMAS Choules loves a challenge. Their motto 'fight difficulty with zeal' is living up to expectations. They have been challenging all dimensions of Damage Control utilising local Fire and Rescue New South Wales crews to ensure real life scenario of anything from fire, flood and toxic hazard scenarios onboard can be managed.
 
The latest challenge involved a toxic hazard exercise with the local Darlinghurst Fire Brigade - the difficulty: while berthed alongside Fleet Base East, to safely extract an unconscious person from a gangway stretches down a drop of 15 metres at an angle that gives new joiners vertigo. The ship is not small as she weighs 16,000 tonnes, is 176 metres long and is capable of carrying 356 troops (700 for an overloaded capacity), 23 main battle tanks, 150 light trucks, landing craft and various Army and Navy helicopters including the MRH-90 and the Army’s Black Hawk.
 
Of course 'Oscar' the rescue dummy put up his hand with a bit of a twist from the Assistant Nuclear Biological Chemical and Disaster Officer, and he became the casualty for a toxic hazard that would need further medical support ashore.
 
Needless to say the ship's company reacted with great zeal, finding the casualty when reacting to a toxic hazard alarm in the Auxiliary Machinery Room One and had the 85kg casualty donned with an emergency life support device, up twelve flights of stairs and at the gangway in under ten minutes. 
 
Petty Officer Andrew Smith, who was the Duty Senior Sailor, and therefore in charge of the response team said he was proud of his team. 

“The duty watch were thinking outside the box and open to new ideas managed to extract the casualty safely and effectively,” he said.

“Working with the local firies gave us a greater understanding of our civilian counterparts to and the equipment and resources at their disposal.”
 
The local crews once again shone through. Three fire trucks and one fire van arrived, and Choules learnt that in a real incident there would be even more. The crews loaded Oscar into a 'Stokes litter' (a metal concaved stretcher) which is specially adapted for their Bronto ladder platform, to safely extract him from the gangway so he could make his way to the local hospital. However, this was only one of many ways of how they can help extract a casualty from a ship like Choules.
 
Darlinghurst C Platoon Station Commander Jason Wood said there were many benefits to conducting real life scenario exercises.

“Seeing how other agencies work and how we can better integrate into each other’s operations can only be a good thing,” he said.
 
No exercise is complete with out a complete re-pack and re-stow of all serviceable damage control equipment, after which a tour of the ship was given to the eleven Fire and Rescue members by a very proud Officer of the Day, pleased as punch of the eleven man duty watch reactions to the toxic hazard and casualty evacuation.