The Farrier Firefighting School in Norfolk honored the memory of 134 Sailors who died during a fire on board the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CV 59) July 25.
Farrier, named in honor of a Forrestal Sailor, Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Gerald W. Farrier, holds the ceremony annually to recognize the living and deceased veterans of Forrestal and their lasting impact on the Navy.
“It was our first time out on the line and for 10 or 12 days, we were doing everything right,” said retired Chief Religious Programs Specialist (AW/SW) Dennis Fiore, a survivor of the Forrestal fire. “On that last day at 10:45, we launched two fighters and at 10:55, the fire broke out.”
According to Fiore, the 1967 Forrestal fire was a devastating blaze and series of chain-reaction explosions that also injured 161 of the ship’s crew.
Fiore, an aviation boatswain’s mate (equipment) at the time, said the events that day changed the course of damage control operations in the Navy.
“Before the end of that year, they were coming out with PKP and light water to help stop fires,” said Fiore. “Everyone assigned to a ship had six months to go to firefighting school.”
Many of the staff members of the Farrier Firefighting School attended and participated in the ceremony.
“It doesn’t matter what rate you are or what rank you are, you are a firefighter,” said Damage Controlman 1st Class (SW/AW) Jessica Kreps, assistant coordinator for the ceremony. “If a fire happens at sea and the people who primarily fight fires, like those in my rate go down, you only have you, the water and your shipmates to save the ship.”
Kreps said every time a ceremony is held for Forrestal veterans, they always thank the instructors at Farrier for teaching new generations of Sailors the techniques and importance of damage control.
For the most recent ceremony, Hugh McCabe, president of the Forrestal Association, presented Capt. Brent Kyler, Farrier’s commanding officer, with a copy of the novel “Sailors to the End.” An inscription inside the cover thanked the school for all they do to keep Sailors safe at sea.
Kyler said the real thanks goes to the veterans of Forrestal for sharing their stories with the Sailors at Farrier.
“You’ve got to remember all the lessons we learned back then,” said Fiore. “The fact that there hasn’t been a major fire on an aircraft carrier since is a living legacy to those 134 guys.”
The ceremony paid special tribute to the memory of retired Lt. Cmdr. Otis Kight, a survivor of the Forrestal fire, who recently died.
Forrestal was engaged in combat operations in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War at the time of the casualty.