Friday, April 10, 2015

A Ron Sagaert Story

"A Whale of a Tale: A Razorback Story"

May 1963

Ron Sagaert in the after engine room by the #3 engine.  April 2015

“The greatest fear aboard a submarine at sea is fire.  Sometime in May 1963, while at sea in WestPac on board the USS Razorback, we experienced an AER [After Engine Room] fire that, while bad and truly scary, could have been a whole lot worse. 

Flash (K. D.) Brenton and I were on watch during a surface transit with both #3 and #4 main engines running.  Flash had been my oiler for a long time at this point and we fit well together, communicating non-verbally while the engines were running.  My short-timer calendar was posted on a locker door bolted to the pressure hull above #3 and I was about 30 days from departure from the boat to begin discharge from the Navy.

Suddenly, we both noticed a wisp of smoke at the forward end of #3 behind the gage panel and near the exhaust elbows.  We peered around to see better, the Flash edging around the forward end of the panel to slip outboard to investigate.  I was looking over the control quadrant when an instant flash of flame billowed up engulfing the forward end of #3 main engine.  I ran aft and yelled ‘Fire in After Engine Room’ as I jumped through the watertight door into Maneuvering Room.  I dogged the hatch shut tight.  The EM’s on duty remotely shut down the engines and reported to Control regarding the fire.

I told them that Flash may still be in the room but they said that FER reported that he was there, having stepped in there at the same time I was racing aft.  The fire raged for a few minutes before starving itself of oxygen.  An officer had come aft from Control and when he couldn’t see anything but black smoke through the portlight in the FER/AER watertight door, he undogged it and swung it open.  Unfortunately, the fire sprang back to life and smoke rushed into the FER.  Re-dogged and secure, the door was left alone for a good half hour while the AER cooled down.  We slowly re-entered the compartment to a smoky and sooty mess.  After the AER was ventilated, we began the investigation and cleanup process.

The copper line feeding fuel pressure to the gage on the main panel was the culprit and a pinhole was discovered in it.  The line was replaced and the engines restarted.  I found the remnants of my dungaree shirt lying across the counter where I had taken the shirt off just prior to seeing the wisp of smoke.  I had a government issue mechanical pencil in the pocket and it was melted nearly beyond recognition.

We cleaned and cleaned for the next 30 days marking my last month on the boat.  Some of my clothes were beyond redemption but I was still able to leave the boat in Sasebo, Japan in June 1963 and head back to San Diego for discharge.”

Ron Sagaert EN2(SS)

The mechanical pencil from the fire.
Author: Allison Hiblong
Story Submission: Ron Sagaert