KINGSLAND, Ga., Oct. 24, 2012 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in coastal Georgia is home to the largest store of nuclear warheads in the U.S. Navy's Atlantic fleet, including the Trident ballistic missile nuclear submarines.
Until 2011 the Base was protected by an elite firefighting unit of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU).
The TWU team was specially trained to fight fire in proximity to nuclear submarines and nuclear reactors, both of which are at Kings Bay.
In a proposed "cost saving" move one year ago, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) ended its contract with the TWU firefighting team.
Now TWU Local 526 President Robert Payne claims the DOD has spent millions in a failed attempt to build and staff its own fire unit at Kings Bay, with firefighters not trained to deal with fire in the presence of nuclear warheads.
DOD had announced that by providing its own firefighters' the federal government would save an anticipated $1.3 million.
"These cost savings never materialized," Payne asserts. "I have the documentation."
According to a U.S. Department of the Navy cost study Payne procured through Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville), the DOD claimed a 'transitional budget' of $391,000" would be the primary cost to "in-source" the firefighting team.
"But the Navy has now spent more than what it announced would be saved to hire only 32 fulltime firefighters verses the 40 full-time in our unit – most of whom are not trained in nuclear fire safety," Payne charges.
Payne also alleges that, following a nuclear submarine incident at a base in Connecticut's New London Naval base, the safety needs at Kings Bay have been boosted.
The Navy raised the base's Common Output Level risk factor rating from a "3" to a "1" and is now authorized to hire over 45 full-time firefighters, plus administrative staff. "The cost of operations, thus, will negate the "cost savings" cited as the reason for terminating the TWU team.
Payne claims that, in addition to costing millions more, cutting the in-place TWU team put the base at high risk.
"The DOD spent millions training us to deal with the unique fire safety protocols at nuclear facilities. The expertise and experience we had are not onsite now."
"This poses imminent danger in case of a nuclear emergency," Payne added.
"If Kings Bay has a bad day, the entire Southeastern U.S. stands to be evacuated."
Just two Naval bases in the nation – Bangor, Washington and Kings Bay – employ firefighters highly trained in fire safety where D-5 missile systems are stored, and in the presence of nuclear warheads. "The TWU team was a leader in terms of nuclear fire expertise," he adds.
"We developed the extrication protocol for pulling personnel out of submarines in the event of nuclear exposure," says Payne. "We do RAD-CON extrication, a specialized extrication system we developed, which was the pattern for the system used in Bangor.
"We're the only team certified to do this, besides the team stationed in Bangor, Wa."
"Our drill performance on drills was always flawless," Payne adds. "The new team isn't passing the drills and is performing at an unacceptable level, according to sources inside the Fire Department."
The TWU's concerns went beyond the loss of the contract, including the exorbitant cost to taxpayers, the base lacking appropriately trained firefighters, and a lack of federal oversight, Payne says.
Payne said he approached Congressman Jack Kingston in 2010 and 2011 for help bringing their concerns to the federal government's attention, but was met with "total indifference."
"I was shocked by Kingston's responding with a letter to us, merely acknowledging our request, written by one of the Congressman's Brunswick staff," Payne contends.
He says he decided to visit Kingston in Washington. "He let us meet with his military advisor, Tom Lamb," Payne said. "But we were allowed to express our concerns, and heard nothing more back.
"On a second trip to see Mr. Lamb, we were cordially told not to come back."
"Kingston knew about this and chose to turn a blind eye to it when we approached him," Payne asserts. "He refused to consider our concerns."
Payne also questions the federal government's move to "in-source" the firefighting department and not re-hire those whose experience and training was already on board.
"The age limit of 37 meant many of the firefighters wouldn't be re-hired. Today they remain jobless," Payne added.
"These concerns met with no response from Kingston, despite repeated attempts to enlist his involvement and help," Payne adds.
The team had exceptional skills, and were honored as Small Fire Unit of the Year by the U.S. Navy, Payne notes.
"Kingston is supposed to be a friend of the region's military bases, and a friend of national security," says Payne. "But he did nothing about this."
The Department of Defense has still not replaced the elite, highly trained unit with qualified firefighters, Payne asserts.
Payne said that in the face of Kingston's refusal to respond, he sought assistance from Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville, FL) where some of the Kings Bay firefighters reside.
"She helped by gathering documentation on U.S. Navy studies that documented the anticipated cost-savings failed to result."
Payne's substantial documentation, he says, shows that slashing the TWU firefighters unit was of no economic benefit, while compromising nuclear facility fire safety, critical to miminize risk of nuclear accidents, throughout the Southeastern U.S.
Kings Bay is considered one of the most strategically critical U.S. Naval bases, in support of U.S. national defense, globally.
Media Contact: Robert Payne TWU, 912-674-9377, firstname.lastname@example.org
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