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Shipyard firefighters and Navy crews were unprepared for an arson fire that swept through a submarine and burned for hours on end, exhausting firefighters and crippling a $900 million nuclear submarine, according to hundreds of pages of documents obtained by The Associated Press. The personnel had participated in 54 fire drills over a three-year period but Navy investigators concluded that firefighters needed to spend more time preparing for a worst-case scenario event after the May 2012 fire aboard the USS Miami at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Investigators said shipyard workers squandered precious minutes after the fire was set by delaying a fire alarm and looking in the wrong place for the fire. "Complacency had set in, based on the infrequency of shipyard fires and relative success of fire prevention measures," they wrote. "Also, there was an assumption that the proximity to far more assets, especially federal firefighters, reduced the likelihood of a fire not being quickly contained. This organizational reluctance to prepare for a fire of this scale should serve as a wake-up call — large fires can and do happen in industrial environments." The Navy says it has learned lessons from the Miami fire. "We will continue to apply best response practices into shipyard fire emergency plans," Lt. Timothy Hawkins, a Navy spokesman, said from the Pentagon.