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Sailors COVID-19 positive after sharing firefighting gear at San Diego naval ship fire

IMAGE: U.S. NAVY

PortandTerminal.com, July 18, 2020

SAN DIEGO – The San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that at least two sailors from the amphibious transport dock USS San Diego tested positive for COVID-19 after fighting the fire onboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, the Navy said Friday.

At least 27 people who were in contact with them are quarantined.

The Navy’s statement came in response to questions raised by several USS San Diego sailors during interviews with The San Diego Union-Tribune. According to the sailors, at least five sailors from their ship have tested positive in the last few days.

The sailors spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to publicly comment on the matter.

The Navy confirmed that two of the sick were at the scene of the fire.

“Two Sailors supporting USS Bonhomme Richard firefighting operations recently tested positive for COVID-19 after exhibiting symptoms,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, a Navy spokeswoman.

“Contract tracing identified 27 close contacts. All contacts were placed in ROM (restriction of movement). The Navy continues to implement COVID-19 mitigation measures to protect the health of our force.”

The sailors from the ship said a significant number of the 27 “close contacts” work in the San Diego’s engineering department and include senior department personnel. The department has increased its staffing rotations to fill in gaps left by those under quarantine, the sailors said.

Citing health privacy law, Schwegman declined to comment on who is quarantined or in which department they work.

One USS San Diego sailor who helped fight the fire told the Union-Tribune Friday that the scene outside the Bonhomme Richard during the height of the conflagration was “chaotic” and responding sailors routinely swapped and shared fire fighting equipment, such as masks and gloves.

Photos provided by the Navy show firefighting equipment being washed and sanitized.

More than 400 sailors from 16 San Diego-based ships helped fight the fire, said Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, at a news conference Friday. Gilday was in San Diego touring the fire-ravaged ship and meeting with its leaders, sailors and firefighters who battled the blaze over five days.

According to the sailor who fought the fire, much of the Bonhomme Richard’s firefighting equipment was damaged or destroyed in the flames, so its sailors relied on gear brought from neighboring vessels — including the USS San Diego.

Recent images reveal the extent of the damages the naval vessel suffered in the blaze:

The Navy announced the fires onboard were extinguished midday Thursday after burning for four days. The damage done to the ship is “extensive,” Gilday said.

According to Navy officials, the fire at the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego was one of the worst to rip through a U.S. warship outside of combat in recent years.

Officials aren’t sure yet what caused the devastating fire.

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