Sailors on U.S. Naval Ship Did Not Know How To Use Firefighting System, Report Says

The U.S. Navy released a blistering new report Tuesday stating that inadequate training in firefighting and fire preparedness by naval crew members allowed an arson fire to engulf an amphibious assault ship.

The fire occurred aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego, California during July 2020. While the Naval probe obtained by the Associated Press names a lone arsonist as the original culprit, the report also stated that the following inferno could have been controlled by sailors aboard the ship had they used proper firefighting techniques.

The arsonist, whom the Daily Beast reported was Navy SEAL reject, ended up causing an enormous five-day-long blaze that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard.

More than 36 sailors, including some of the ship's top commanders, were named in the probe as performing incorrect actions that either directly led or contributed to the fire spreading out of control.

The sailors who were blamed were people ranging from senior officials to lower-ranking enlisted personnel. Also named was Vice Adm. Richard Brown, a three-star admiral and head of the Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet, who retired soon after the fire.

USS Bonhomme Richard arson fire
The U.S. Navy has released a scathing report stating that the large fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard was exacerbated by inadequately trained firefighting crews onboard the ship. Here, the ship can be seen burning in San Diego in July 2020. U.S. Navy/Getty

Additional blame was directed towards the USS Bonhomme Richard's commander, Capt. Gregory Thoroman, who "created an environment of poor training, maintenance and operational standards that directly led to the loss of the ship."

"Although the fire was started by an act of arson, the ship was lost due to an inability to extinguish the fire," the probe continued. "An ineffective fire response" was caused by "repeated failures by an inadequately prepared crew."

A large portion of the crew was apparently untrained in the use of numerous onboard firefighting systems, including the use of the ship's main foam retardant designed to stop fires. This system could reportedly be turned on by the simple press of a button, but was never activated because crew members didn't have "specific knowledge as to the location of the button or its function."

Additionally, 87 percent of the onboard fire stations either had mechanical problems or had not been recently inspected, the report said, and easily combustible materials were strewn throughout the ship.

The report named numerous other firefighting techniques that the crew failed to employ. This includes the failure to ring emergency warning bells until 10 minutes after the blaze began, which caused delays in assembling fire response teams.

Overall, "a pattern of failed drills, minimal crew participation, an absence of basic knowledge on firefighting" was directly cited as the cause of the ship's loss.

The USS Bonhomme Richard was a Wasp-class ship that was commissioned in August 1998 and named after one of Benjamin Franklin's pen names. She was in the middle of a $250 million renovation when the fire occurred.

The Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. William Lescher, has stated that the head of the U.S. Pacific Fleet will decide any potential punishments for the crew members named in the report.

Newsweek has contacted the U.S. Department of Defense for contact.