Monday, September 15, 2008

Basic Safety and Examinations

I spent the beginning of September in Boothbay Harbor, living aboard Harvey Gamage again. I was there for fires. I was there for immersion suits. I was there for fun.

Before heading to Boothbay, I had visited Boston's USCG REC (Regional Exam Center) and been cleared to take exams for both my AB-Special and 100 Ton Inland Masters license. After a sidetrip to Gloucester, I was on my way...with three fellow OCF sailors in my car. As we clambered down Gamage's miships companionway, we all breathed deeply and identified the distinct smell that is Gamage--a strange combination of bilge water, mildew, saltiness, and mustiness that still permeates my duffel bag and backpack.

The next day, we started classes. Basic Safety Training is a five-day course: two days of fire-fighting, two days of personal survival, and the requisite First Aid and CPR. Unfortunately, because of the number of props involved in the skill sessions, the five days are broken down into alternating days of lecture and awesomeness.

I had been a bit nervous about firefighting. After my vapor burns a few years back, I was not particularly eager to get up close and personal with something as toasty warm as a burning inferno. There was no need to worry, however, as there was A) no burning inferno and B) firefighting is great! We had to don the full scba suits in under three minutes, which I somehow managed to do on my first time donning a suit. This still amazes me, as I had ended up with a compressed air tank that was virtually impossible to open. It may have helped that my boots were a men's 11. That is almost twice the size of my feet! We then enjoyed the 85 degree, sunny day in full gear. In small teams, we entered a smokehouse with a hose, to "rescue" people. That afternoon we got to appreciate real fires. We made a class A fire, which unfortunately was not the raging inferno we were hoping for. We also made a deisel fire. The best was when Ken, our instructor, pulled out old flares. Flares are a class D fire--burning metal. There are only two things that put out a class D fire: an incredibly expensive extinguishing agent called Dry Powder or smother with sand. As it turns out, it takes a lot of sand and a lot of time for this smothering to occur. It was impresive and reassuring to see how successfully flares stay lit, especially the next day...

...which was spent in lecture about survival at sea in all sorts of calamities. By the end of the day, I was ready to stuff my pockets with all kinds of survival gear and to wear a fanny pack full of nifty stuff "just in case". Because of my overly excessive certification history with First Aid and CPR, my last day of class was spent in the pool. We learned to swim through burning oil surfaces (hypothetically, the YMCA discourages setting fires within their pools), to inflate and flip inflatable liferafts, how to put on and take off immersion suits in the water, and all sorts of other fun things. For instance, a simply grocery bag can work as a flotation device...a rather comfortable one at that. My highlights were flipping the liferaft and managing to get myself out of the pool with an immersion suit full of water-most people were dragged out so we could gain experience doing that. I couldn't stand up, but I could get out.

All in all, it kind of made me wish that the skills portion of BST was an annual certification like CPR. Mostly, however, that is just because I had so much fun. Of course, I have no desire to test these skills in the real world situations, but at least I know I am more prepared if I have to.

In addition to BST, being in Boothbay was a fantastic chance to reconnect with people. Shayma, the chief mate from the spring trip, and Nell, a student, were both there. It was fantastic to spend time with them, especially as I am not sure when I will next see them.

After finishing up with BST, it was back down to Boston's REC for my exams. Day One of the exams, I took eight of the nine I needed to. Most of them were easier than I expected. Seven of the exams require a 70% to pass, which was no problem for me. The other two exams require 90%, which was trickier. As a result, I now have my Merchant Mariner's Document with an AB-Special endorsement. Hopefully, as of my retake day for the two 90% sections, I will get the Masters license as well.
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