Story by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jose Madrigal
INDIAN OCEAN – Safety is of the utmost importance while working on any Navy warship. Sailors are trained to work in safe conditions and with proper safety equipment. But, when working in a hangar bay with multi-million-dollar aircraft, fuels, ordnance and other dangerous materials, it doesn’t hurt to have an extra set of eyes watching over.
Unbeknownst to some aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), there is a watch that is constantly manned anytime there is aircraft or ordnance in the hangar bay. That duty is filled by the conflagration watch, commonly referred to as just conflag.
Conflag watch is performed by qualified personnel from primary flight control, squadrons and air department’s hangar deck division, V-3. Conflag stations commonly go unnoticed due to their location located above each hangar bay. The conflag stations are secluded and no visitors are allowed. Conflag stations overlook the entire hangar bay and allow watchstanders to observe daily operations and personnel working inside the hangar bay.
When standing the isolated watch, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Destoni Black, from Leesville, Louisiana, has a bird’s eye view of the hangar bay that allows her to provide situational and safety reports.
“Conflagration watch is an integrity watch for the hangar bay,” said Black. “We [watchstanders] are looking for fires in the hangar bay, on aircrafts, fuel spills, oil spills or anything that can damage or decrease the integrity of the hangar bay.”
The main role of these watchstanders is to observe and report. Watchstanders from conflag stations one and three report to the watchstander in conflag station two. The watchstander in station two then reports to hangar deck control who then reports to the ship’s handler.
Should an incident occur, like an out of control fire, watchstanders have the ability to make impactful decisions said hangar deck supervisor Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 1st Class Kenisone Leoso, from American Samoa. They have the authority to activate the overhead sprinklers or control the hangar bay doors if necessary.
Although no significant incidents have occurred during deployment, Leoso believes that watchstanders have had an impact on safety in the hangar bay.
“Occasionally, a Sailor might go on top of an aircraft and forget to put on a cranial, or walk out onto the elevator well without a float coat and one of the conflag watchstanders might correct them,” said Leoso. “The watchstander would then come on over the hangar bay announcement system and make an announcement reminding personnel of personal protective equipment (PPE). If need be, they will point out specific Sailors to ensure they are following proper safety procedures.”
While standing conflag watch may not be the most exciting, it requires vigilance from the Sailors who stand it. As Black has come to realize, the hangar bay is a high traffic area that can become hazardous if Sailors are not careful.
“Everybody has to come though the hangar bay for something and it’s our job to keep it safe,” said Black. “Not only am I watching the aircraft, but I also have to make sure Sailors have proper PPE and the hangar bay is free of foreign object debris. It’s a lot of small tedious things that people don’t know about that we have to watch for.”
Though conflag watch may sometimes go unnoticed, their attentive and alert watchstanding has been and continues to play a role in the safety of day to day operations in the hangar bay.
The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled deployment in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts.