US Navy urged to improve fire safety measures and training evaluations

The US Government Accountability Offshore (GAO) has called on the US Navy to improve the sharing of fire safety information and the assessment of fire safety training programs.

Since 2008, fires on Navy ships during maintenance have resulted in over $4 billion in damage and the loss of two ships, including the USS Bonhomme Richard in a July 2020 fire at Naval Base San Diego. The risk of fire is increased during maintenance repairs due to the presence of sparks in confined areas.

Despite the Navy’s efforts to strengthen fire protection, the GAO found that fire-related lessons are not consistently taught throughout the service. Additionally, there is no Navy-wide standard for evaluating the effectiveness of fire safety training and drills for ships’ crews.

GAO recommends that the Navy establish a process for consistently collecting, analyzing, and sharing lessons learned from ship fires. This will allow the Navy to improve safety practices and minimize the risk of repeating costly mistakes. The report also highlights that no organization currently analyzes the broader impact of ship fires on the Navy’s operations and strategic resources. Such analysis is critical to fully understanding the risks and informing business leaders and policy makers about resource allocation for fire prevention and mitigation.

In addition to the lack of a consistent process for lessons learned, the Navy has not evaluated the effectiveness of its collective training efforts service-wide. GAO proposes that the Navy establish service-wide goals, performance measurements, and a monitoring process for its training efforts to improve fire safety and response. This will provide naval leadership with the information necessary to determine the effectiveness of training in reducing the incidence and severity of fires.

GAO conducted this study in response to the estimated more than $4 billion in damage from ship fires during maintenance operations from May 2008 to December 2022, which included the loss of the USS Bonhomme Richard. The report examined the extent to which the Navy has learned lessons from fire, analyzed the impact of maintenance fires on ships and evaluated the effectiveness of fire safety training.

Following the study, GAO made three recommendations to the Navy. These include establishing a process to consistently collect lessons learned, creating an organization to analyze the impact of fires, and establishing service-wide goals, performance measurements, and a process to monitor and report progress in fire safety training. The Navy has agreed to all three recommendations in written comments.

Read the GAO report: Navy Ship Fires: Ongoing efforts to improve safety should be stepped up

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