Staci DeSchryver: A Major Ursus, August 3, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Staci DeSchryver

Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 26 – August 12, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Location:  57.43287 N, 152.28867 W
241.2 (Stationary)
Date: August 3, 2011

Weather Data From the Bridge
Overall Weather:  Clouds and fog

Science and Technology Log

One of the most serious emergencies that can take place onboard a ship is a fire.  The NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson has many security measures in place in the event of a fire while underway.  During our time in port, the crew of the Dyson planned a ‘’Safety Stand Down” Day to review safety protocol for all types of emergencies, particularly what the crew should do in the event of such a serious issue.

Before we began discussing some of the features of fire-fighting and emergency equipment, we participated in a survival activity that will certainly be used for the first days of school in my AVID class.    The activity consisted of a list of 15 items that we had in a mock abandon-ship emergency situation.  We were supposed to rank order the items of greatest to least importance for survival.  Some items were quite obviously important (water, food, and shelter, for example) and some were quite important but at first glance appeared to be about as useful as chewing gum.  There was a third group of items that appeared to be important, but in reality, ended up being about as valuable as a lawn ornament.  We rank ordered the items first on our own, and then formed groups of four or five to discuss our lists and come up with a group consensus of what is valuable.  As I predicted, repurposing items was the name of the game and those seemingly useless chewing gum items realized their full potential for being used for some other function.  Overall, I won!  I will be accepting applications for spaces in my life raft in the event of an emergency.  Preference will be given to those who can demonstrate strong paddling capabilities and have a deep aptitude for celebrity impersonations for entertainment purposes while on the raft.  Although all candidates will be judged carefully, those who write detailed, yet succinct and poignant essays will be given highest consideration due to limited on-raft seating.

After we finished the safety exercise, we were given the opportunity to take a look at the fire-fighting gear.  Think about this:  what happens when there is a fire at home?  It is usually detected by a smoke alarm, then, if there is time, the type of fire is determined.  Did it start with grease in the kitchen?  Or is it coming from an unknown source, maybe like an electrical fire?  The type of fire will determine what can and cannot be used to put it out.   If the fire can’t be put out quickly, the next step is to…call…the…fire…department.  Now, think about this:  What would happen on a ship in the event of a fire?  Well, many people are typically on watch to ensure that fires don’t start to begin with.  But fires can start on board in all of the same ways they can start at home.  So, in preparation for this, the ship must be equipped not just for fire, but for all kinds of fire.  If the fire can’t be put out quickly, the next step is to…call…the…fire…department…but wait!  That really can’t be done.  Who, then, do we call?  (Not the Ghostbusters, but good try.)  The crew doubles as the fire department.   In fact, any person who is on the ship is a member of the fire-fighting team to a certain extent.  My job is to be accounted for and stay the heck out of the way so the pros can do their job.

All of the crewmen are trained in firefighting procedures.  There are two fire lockers, one fore and one aft of the ship.  Inside the fire locker is a treasure trove of nozzles, hoses, and fire axes.  They are ready for anything on the ship because they have equipped themselves with a variety of means with which to fight different kinds of fires.

fire gear
Here, two members of the Oscar Dyson practice changing out air supply tanks.

What I found both interesting and important is that all of the hose lengths must be able to reach any connection on the ship so that all parts of the ship are covered in the event of a fire.  This can easily be explained if you think about a poorly designed sprinkler system.  If your sprinklers don’t cover all areas of the yard, you end up with conspicuous brown patches in the grass where the water doesn’t reach.  However, if the sprinkler system is set up correctly, no brown patches exist.  The Oscar Dyson requires that all of the hoses are long enough so that there are no “brown areas” on the ship.  If appropriate and necessary, the hoses will pull seawater out directly from the ocean to fight a fire in favor of the purified water onboard.  Usually, they prefer to use carbon dioxide to fight the fire.  It’s relatively benign in terms of dangerous reactions that could potentially take place.  For example, if there was a grease fire onboard, it wouldn’t make much sense to put water on it, but Carbon Dioxide would be a great option.

Next, we were given a demonstration of all of the nifty features of the firefighting gear. Ensign David Rodziewicz, the head safety officer, gave pointers on how to effectively put fire-fighting gear on.  The goal is to be able to get in and out of fire gear in less than two minutes, with the ideal time being less than a minute.  ENS Rodziewicz indicated that the most important way to be successful with suiting up is to have the gear properly set up – if boots are tipped over and gloves are strewn all over the place, not much will be accomplished in the time frame allotted – and being able to fight a fire quickly, while critical in all areas, is imperative on a boat.  Where land-based fires are a tragic and sobering experience, there is often an escape.  One can leave and go to a wide parking lot or out to the street away from the flames.  On the ship, the only place to go if things really take a turn for the worse is the ocean.  This is why timing is so important.There are some neat features on the fire-fighting equipment.  The air supply tanks are equipped with a 45-minute supply of air.  Most fire fighters are not expected to stay in an active fire area for that long, but the supply is large enough just in case there is a problem.   There is no need to keep time while fighting fires.  A “heads-up” display is clearly visible in the fire mask, with green, yellow, and red indicator lights representing the percentage of air left in the tanks.  The batteries for the light displays are changed quarterly – an important thing to check off on a to-do list!  Of all of the things to remember to do on a ship, it seems to me like that would be an easy task to forget.  But, they never do.  Another interesting feature is the communications system.  Each fire-fighting mask has a built-in communications system, so there is no need to take a radio in to an area with flames.  It’s almost like having a fire-fighting Bluetooth.  Each coat is also equipped with a flashlight and an emergency nylon strap in case of an emergency.  The neatest feature to me was the emergency bypass for the oxygen tanks.  If a crew member runs out of air, he or she can “latch” on to another person’s tank by ENS Rodziewicz utilizing a connector hose from the back of the rescuing party’s tank.  This will give approximately a ten minute air supply, although  points out that if one finds    himself or herself in that kind of a situation, he or she should not be in a fire zone for an additional ten minutes.  The emergency air supply is to safely remove a crew member only – not for fighting fires.One of the most useful ways to fight fire on a ship is to simply cordon off the area and then let the fire run its course in the offending room.  On the ship, there are many fire-retardant walls built into the bulkhead.  At that point, the fire fighters will utilize a tactic known as “boundary cooling.”  When you shut off a single room in the ship, the above and below decks can still conduct heat.  Therefore, the crew will spray a layer of ocean water in the rooms directly above and below the target area to ensure that the fire does not spread above or below floors.  Water has a high specific heat, so it acts as an excellent energy absorber.   This tactic is called boundary cooling, and is used often used in fire-fighting on a ship.Afterward, we watched the crew practice putting on, activating, and utilizing their fire-fighting equipment.  Each person who is responsible for fire-fighting has a partner who assists him or her in getting suited up, changing out air supply tanks, and assisting in other duties as necessary.Here, Cat and I are pret-a-porte in our stylish life-saving devices. Will we go into the water? Check out my other blog to find out…

From there, the day got really exciting, but if you want to read about it, you’ll have to visit my other blog at– a quick hint:  it involves a gumby suit and a big splash!  It’s not for the faint of heart.  Here’s a preview in the picture to the left.  Also, be sure to check out Cat’s blog: to see what she’s been up to!  Cat does some incredible cartoons that are really funny and informative, so she is capturing this adventure in a completely different light.  We make a great team!

Personal Log

Will Cat and I make a big "splash?" Check out my other blog to find out!
Will Cat and I make a big "splash?" Check out my other blog to find out!

Yesterday, Cat and I went out to Fort Abercrombie.  Fort Abercrombie was an established World War II outpost that was designed to defend American soil in the event of an attack from the Axis Powers.  We found this really interesting interpretive trail called the Wildflower Trail.  Along the trail, there were informative signs about various wild flowers, their scientific name, their Inuit name, and uses for the roots, blossoms, stems, and leaves.  After encountering a sign, it was a sure bet that we would see the celebrity flower just a few clicks up the trail.  The trail carried us to a decrepit lookout post over the inlet that we could enter into and see what the defenders of our nation saw when they looked out on the glass blue waters of the bay.

The lookout
Here at Ft. Abercrombie, Marshmallow busied himself by taking post in the military lookout. He claims he was scanning the air for potential threats to our borders. Since there are not imminent threats to Alaska at this juncture, I maintain that he stole Cat's binoculars to look for Salmon.

Old buildings stood steadfast, fighting reclamation by the forest while many had a legacy left only by a sign pounded in to a rotting foundation.  Again, I found myself trying to tell the story of those who used to call this enchanted forest home.

We also (sound trumpets!) saw a Kodiak Brown Bear!  There is a difference between a Brown Bear, a Kodiak Bear, and Grizzly Bear – mainly demographic.  A Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) is called a brown bear because it is found in coastal areas.  Kodiak Bears are the largest of the Brown bears and are found only on Kodiak Island.  Inland bears (like the ones you find in Yellowstone) are called Grizzlies (Ursus arctos horriblis).  Bears on boats are called Marshmallows.  All bears (excepting Marshmallow himself) are in the genus Ursus.   Brown bears, Grizzly Bears, and Kodiak Bears are Ursus arctos, while Marshmallow’s distant cousins to the north are Ursus maritimus.  After discovering this as his namesake, Marshmallow was quite revolted.  He has decided to write a strongly worded letter to the Linnaeus Society as the term maritimus paints a less menacing and voracious picture of polar bears than does the Grizzly’s namesake.

Mbear in the flowers
Marshmallow has been quite incorrigible since his discovery of his species name. I suggested that he attach this photo to his strongly worded letter, which paints him in a most frightening manner.

He has suggested instead to be called Ursus kickyerbuttus.    I maintain that Marshmallow should be renamed Ursus domesticus stuffedus wimpus, because the closest he has ever been to a salmon run is from the comfort of his 60 inch HDTV.  He has a stateroom for crying out loud.

As we drive along the road, we slow down to a crawl at all of the river crossings hoping to see Kodiak Bears.  Our luck was good that day, because we saw three in a matter of about 4 hours.  Here he is now.

Brown Bear
This bear is not a Marshmallow. Nor is he a Pooh or a Yogi. Let me break this down into a simple equation: No stuffing + large + curious and furtive glances at surrounding humans + large teeth and claws = I should probably be further away than I am right now.

A fisherman nearby hypothesized he was a juvenile male, about 2 or 3 seasons away from his mamma and on his own as a hunter.  He was pretty indifferent to the existence of people, but not menacing in any way.  He ambled along, chasing after magpies and hopping in and out of the water.  It was neat to see him up so close, but still have the safety of the bridge to keep us at a safe distance.  This was of course, until he decided to climb up onto the road.  He was quicker than I would have liked him to be!

After dinner, we were driving back to the ship along Women’s Bay and one ran out in front of the car!  His shoulder blade was at the same level as the roof of the Impreza we were driving – no fish tale.  He glanced casually at us and loped off into the trees toward the salt marsh.  The next creek up the bay hosted a third bear, but we only got a glimpse of him as he was gone by the time we turned the car around.  It was really a blessing to get to see (more than once!) such neat little critters.  And by little critters I mean large toothed, long clawed beasts that have the capability to chew your head off in one fell swoop.  Thankfully, they are more interested in salmon at this time of year, and really don’t have much of a taste for people.  (In defense of Mr. Kodiak, there are more casualties from dogs in a given year than there are fatal maulings in ten years from Kodiak Browns.  We would have much more to worry about if we tasted like Salmon or Salmonberries, as this is what comprises the majority of their diet.  However, they should be treated with a healthy respect – especially a momma bear with her cubs.)

It has been an action packed week so far.  We are hoping to learn as much as we can about the island while we are here, and we are making the best of being in port while we wait to set sail.  It’s been wonderful to walk out on the peninsula every morning and have some time to myself to show gratitude for all that has been done for me to get me out here and experience this first hand.  The standing joke when we witness something truly spectacular is to say “I think in my evaluation of the Teacher At Sea program I am going to suggest that they actually find places for us to go that aren’t so ugly.  This place is such an eyesore…”  I hope you sense the sarcasm dripping in my voice.

Trivia Question:

True or False?  Sea Stars are Echinoderms that can regenerate lost body parts.

Answer:  True.  “Sea stars are remarkable, as they are able to regenerate lost or damaged parts of their bodies. An arm that is broken off can be regrown. Some species can actually regrow a complete new body from a single severed arm, if it is attached to part of the central disc.”


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