The complete 1,200 pound superheated system had to be dumped fast; up the stack and into the fire room itself. With all hands safe, the internal scuttles and hatches were secured. The 6-71 diesel generators on line supplied necessary systems power. The fresh air blowers soon started to evacuate the compartment. The port side emergency shaft was also used for cross ventilation.
We were adrift for 7 hours until it was determined that possibly the lower level feed pump was blown or leaking badly. This had to be verified by someone soon as a storm was coming. The officers, chiefs and doc said I wouldn’t have much to worry about. The heat and steam in the compartment had cooled enough that as long as I held my breath until I reached the blowers vents for cooler air, I could get in and out in a few minutes.
With only asbestos gloves from my silver suit (it was too hot for masks and other equipment) I prepared to enter. An 18” uproar of steam and heat flowed from the scuttle billowing against the overhead to the surrounding bulkheads heating all metal in its path and drenching everything in the passageway.
As I stepped into the shaft of steam down the ladder, I was drenched to the bone. It was like passing through a super-hot “water-up”, not fall! I went down the ladder to the first blower vent pipe in search of cooler air to breathe. It was as hot as the compartment even up to my waist in the pipe! I sniffed to quiet my lungs in need of air. It burned badly! On to the next; same thing. They said the lower level would be cooler; it wasn’t there or anywhere. Everything I touched was hot through the gloves. Deck plates hurt through my shoes. Bumping into one bracket helped to not do it again! The asbestos gloves weren’t much help on the ladders as my fingers couldn’t handle the heat. Only the thicker gauntlets at the wrist provided any sort of relief. I heard water running and splashing and found the feed pump in question. Water was pouring out of the bottom. I found rags and clothing to put on the hot metal plate, pipes and brackets to kneel down to look under for an exact leak location but couldn’t because everything was just too hot and I needed air.
They tied a hemp rope around my wait before I entered the compartment so as I moved or pulled on it I was still here. The heat kept me from opening my mouth to talk or yell anyway. Finally up the two ladders to the forward passageway someone helped me to the outside main deck. I explained what I had found – feed pump leaking. The doctor gave me a little bottle of whiskey; I was freezing my ass off out there…then passed out. Was I in a coma?
I woke up days later exhausted and drained. I had to be watched 24/7 as I was in pretty bad shape. Everything was fine until one day in San Diego I felt a sharp chest pain. It happened again, but lessened later that day. Not soon after, the pain returned so I requested to see a doctor as I couldn't sleep. The x-rays showed nothing so it was back to work. Less than an hour before liberty call I was summoned to return to the hospital. Luckily someone had reviewed the x-rays and saw that my lung had collapsed 75%.
They tried twice to re-inflate my lung before surgery was required. Blisters were revealed and pleural abrasions were done to aid in the healing, which they said would take a while and I would feel tearing sensations as the lung healed. My experience lasted 14 years!
William G. Forst served in the U.S. Navy from 1968-1972 as a second class damage controlman on the USS Hoel.