The U.S. Government Accountability Offshore (GAO) has called on the U.S. Navy to enhance its fire safety information sharing and evaluation of fire safety training programs.
Since 2008, fires occurring on Navy ships during maintenance have led to damages exceeding $4 billion and the loss of two ships, including the USS Bonhomme Richard in a July 2020 fire at Naval Base San Diego. The risks of fires are heightened during maintenance repairs due to the presence of sparks in confined areas.
Despite the Navy’s efforts to bolster fire safety, the GAO found that fire-related lessons are not consistently disseminated throughout the service. Furthermore, there is no Navy-wide standard for evaluating the effectiveness of fire safety trainings and drills provided to ship crews.
The GAO recommends that the Navy establishes a process for consistent collection, analysis, and sharing of lessons learned from ship fires. This will enable the Navy to improve safety practices and minimize the risk of costly mistakes being repeated. The report also highlights that no organization is currently analyzing the broader effects of ship fires on the Navy’s operations and strategic resources. Such analysis is crucial for a comprehensive understanding of the risks and for informing senior leaders and policymakers about resource allocation for fire prevention and mitigation.
In addition to the lack of a consistent process for lessons learned, the Navy has not assessed the effectiveness of its collective training efforts on a service-wide basis. The GAO suggests that the Navy establish service-wide goals, performance measures, and a monitoring process for its training efforts to improve fire safety and response. This will provide Navy leadership with the necessary information to determine the effectiveness of training in reducing the incidence and severity of fires.
The GAO conducted this study in response to the more than $4 billion in estimated damages from ship fires during maintenance 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 addressed lessons learned from fires, analyzed the effects of maintenance fires on ships, and assessed the effectiveness of fire-safety training.
Following the study, the GAO made three recommendations to the Navy. These include establishing a process for consistent collection of lessons learned, creating an organization to analyze the effects of fires, and setting service-wide goals, performance measures, and a process for monitoring and reporting progress for fire-safety training. The Navy has concurred with all three recommendations in written comments.
Read the GAO report: Navy Ship Fires: Ongoing Efforts to Improve Safety Should Be Enhanced
Sign up for our newsletter