NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015
Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 13, 2015
Current Location: transitioning between Shelikoff Strait and Uganik Bay, North Kodiak Island, Alaska
As I mentioned earlier, safety is top priority here on Rainier. The crew is required to have safety drills within 24 hours of leaving port. This includes drills such as Fire and Emergency drills, Man Over Board (MOB) drills and Abandon Ship drills.
When I arrived I was quickly told how to find 2 ways out of my cabin. My cabin also has a device called an EEBD – Emergency Escape Breathing Device that will allow me to breathe for 10 minutes in a smoky corridor if needed. Each and every cabin has these and they are also in various places around the ship.
All new crew and visitors are given a thorough safety briefing before we leave port. We started by doing some paperwork and discussing what everything means. Then, ENS Danial Palance took us around the ship and showed us the important areas. He made sure I could find my safe places to report to since I am so new to the ship.
Every person, including me, has a job during an emergency. Each person is given a “bunk card” that is held near your sleeping bunk. It lists the three main emergencies we practice and where each person reports to.
Fire and Emergency Drills – the ship’s whistle will blow for a long 10 second blast when there is a fire or other emergency. Go ahead and slowly count to 10 to see how long it is – 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3…
This will definitely get your attention! If it is a drill it will be announced. If not, it will say this is an emergency. My job is to get to the “BRAVO station” which is on the Fantail or back of the ship near the boat shop. My primary duty is to “assist as directed” if help is needed. All over the ship are stations for the firefighters. What I find most interesting is these are not people they bring on board specifically… it is the crew you see around you who have also trained to be Firefighters and Advanced Firefighters! ENS Palance is one of them!
Also throughout the ship you can see Fire Stations and fire extinguishers, fire alarm boxes, radios for communication. Some of the areas with more dangerous items (like paint or the machine shop) are labeled “CO2 PROTECTED SPACE”. I was most curious about this. What do you think CO2 and fires have in common? If you answered that fires need oxygen to burn and CO2 will put a fire out then you are correct. In one area of the ship there are many large canisters with CO2 in them. If there is a bad fire in one of the CO2 protected spaces, someone can send the CO2 to that area and put the fire out. It will remove all the oxygen from the space.
Man Over Board drills – On a ship if someone falls into the water you will hear the whistle blow for 3 long blasts.
If you are the person who saw this, you will need to keep your eye on the person and let others know. Everyone has a station for this as well. My job is to report to the “Flying bridge” on top of the ship and be a lookout and help as needed. The ship has many orange safety rings that can be throw overboard to someone. There are also two rings with smoke signals attached that can be released from both port (left side) and starboard (right side) of the ship. We learned how to release those as well. Rainier has to do monthly drills for MOB. They don’t actually put someone in the water for this, it is usually a buoy or it could be “Oscar” the medical mannequin (He must be Rainier’s version of “Buster” from the show Mythbusters).
Abandon Ship drills – Being out on the cold waters of Alaska and leaving this ship is a scary thought, but it needs to be practiced. Everyone has their own Survival Suits to wear for these drills. Check me out with mine!! We also need to bring long sleeved shirts, warm hats and flotation devices with us. I will be reporting to Liferaft #4 on the port side of the ship with Liferaft #3 on the starboard side as back up. My indoor meeting place is in the Wardroom and, again, I assist as directed. If we have to leave the ship, people have jobs to go get the EPIRB which is an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, the SART is a Search and Rescue Transponder and the GMDSS which are Global Maritime Distress Safety Signal. All of these will help the Coast Guard rescue us!!
I have had my training, and you know what needs to be done. Now, time for the real drills at sea!!!
Suddenly, we hear a long 10 second whistle… it was the drill for fire and emergency. Everyone quickly went to their assigned areas. There was a fire near the mess hall and the fire team was on the job!! ENS McKay and AB Wright worked on putting the fire out. Below are some pictures of them in their fire gear!
The fire drill turned into an Abandoned Ship drill. Calmly and quickly, everyone gathered their survival suits, a warm hat, long sleeved shirt and their PFD (personal floatation device) and went to their station. Everyone had to put their survival suits on. ENS McKay was my group leader and he had to help me with mine. He was incredibly fast putting his on and gave me some great pointers on being quicker in a real emergency.
While safety drills are important. I hope we will never have to do this for real!
Path to Rainier
This crew is truly an incredible bunch. I thought it would be interesting for others to see how people ended up working here. While I would like to highlight everyone, I could only pick a few.
The first person I want everyone to meet is Able Seaman (AB) Lindsey Houska. Lindsey is one of the deck hands on Rainier. I wanted to know what path led her to this unique work place.
Lindsey started with a degree in Economics from South Dakota State University and worked in Montana for the USDA (U.S Department of Agriculture) for 4 1/2 years. She realized she wanted to get a bit more out of life than working at a desk. She sold her house and car, stored her belongings with her parents and went to Indonesia to volunteer instructing farmers on better growing practices. This was the beginning of her life adventures! After 3 months living in Indonesia and 5 months traveling other areas of Southeast Asia, she headed out to Australia. This incredibly hard working woman did a few jobs but ended up working on a commercial fishing vessel catching prawns on the West Coast of Australia. Later, she got a job in Seattle and South East Alaska as a deck hand on a luxury yacht. Realizing she had a love of positive environmental practices she wanted to do more for the world in general. This is when Lindsey applied to work for NOAA. NOAA are true stewards of the ocean!
On Rainier, Lindsey has been a very busy deck hand for nearly 2 years. She loves working with all the other deck hands and they have an amazing camaraderie with each other. I learned so much more about her job when we sat down together. Lindsey is a trained fire fighter, has been to radar school and even has her captain’s license for smaller vessels. She works hard with boat deployment, maintenance on the weather deck, inport bridge watch for security and anchor watch so the ship stays in place when it is at anchor. She also works the cranes, does lookout on the flying bridge and can be a helmsman steering the ship.
In her free time, Lindsey can be found reading, working out in the gym on board, meditating for some quiet time and she also has a bicycle on board that she likes to ride when the ship is in port. When I asked Lindsey what she did to reduce stress on the job, she said having a good sense of humor with colleagues goes a long way. They also enjoy time in port together and having meals together. This amazing woman has traveled all over the world including most of Southeast Asia, all over Australia and New Zealand. She has been to Europe, Mexico, British Columbia and Manitoba, Canada. Incredibly, but not surprising as I get to know her, many of the areas Lindsey backpacked to on her own!
I am truly impressed by this lady; how hard she works and how kind she has been to me. Thank you, Lindsey, for letting me get to know you better!
TEAMWORK SAFETY FIRST Three words that I have discovered run Rainier. I am incredibly impressed by the teamwork, communication, hard work and commitment to our oceans that is evident here. The umbrella over all of this is an even bigger obligation to safety. Above I have highlighted just a bit of what makes this ship work in regard to safety. In future blogs you will read more about this topic when you learn about the people here. Needless to say, even though we will be out in very big, deep waters and in narrow bays with tall mountains, I feel incredibly safe in the hands of this reliable crew.