“Ship, Shipmate, Self.” This is a well-known phrase used throughout the Navy. It teaches Sailors in times of casualty or emergency that you use all the training provided to you, to save your ship. Once you have prevented further damage to your ship you focus on your shipmates, and finally yourself. This has been seen many times in the past when ships have experienced casualties.
Navy Sailors are trained for these situations, before they ever boot camp they receive countless hours of firefighting and casualty response training. When a ship is underway, it becomes the fire department, the doctors’ office, the police force, and sometimes the emergency room.
Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Nathaniel Atkins, from Chesapeake, Virginia, assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) engineering department, never expected to use this training during his liberty time not aboard the ship, but when the call for “help” came, he was ready.
On his way home from grabbing groceries to make dinner, Atkins saw a home on fire. Without hesitating he pulled over and began to take control of the situation.
“The only thing I saw was a house fire and there were probably 15, maybe 20 people standing outside,” said Atkins. “I stopped rolled down the window and yelled ‘is everybody out of the house.’ And they're like, no, there are kids inside.”
Sailors are trained to handle stressful environments, trained to think through solutions and execute precise actions to complete the mission. Atkins put all that training together to successfully accomplish the mission before him.
“Initially I went up to try to and assess the situation, to determine what the easiest way in was,” said Atkins. “It was a four-apartment duplex and the main entrance that goes upstairs where the kids were, was on fire. I couldn't get through it. I saw the two children in a bedroom window in the back half of the house on the second story and went to find a ladder.”
Atkins has been enlisted in the Navy for more than ten years. Seven of those have been spent at a sea command where he participated in hundreds of firefighting trainings and evolutions.
“My training helped me establish a goal and accomplish the goal, get the kids out, keep calm, assess the situation and make sure that nothing that I'm going to do is going to hurt me or anybody else,” Atkins informed. “The main thing is it really kept me calm.”
Atkins said he got a ladder from someone in another house close by. Once he got the ladder up he climbed to the window where he could see the girls and broke the window out. He had the first girl out before the fire department, EMS and police showed up. He had the second girl out as the fire department was beginning to combat the fire.
“I saw an older lady in another window as I was pulling the kids out,” said Atkins. “I could see she was on oxygen and I watched her turn back into the house. I don't know if it was because she was trying to find the grandkids, or if she was scared because we were on the second story and she didn't want to fall. But either way she turned back into the house, and she didn't make it.”
If he had only gotten there 10 minutes earlier Atkins said he felt he could have had a better chance to get the elderly lady out.
“There was so much chaos in the very beginning, nobody was taking control. I just leapt into action and did what I needed to do. I don't really know how to feel about it, it's a lot of mixed emotions. I have a feeling of guilt, just because of the grandmother and that situation, but to be honest, I did everything I could. I think that I did a good job, I have a feeling that I've accomplished something.”