Down  The  Hatch
by  Pat  Gurr
2  Feb  2006
  At some time most of us were guilty of not following safety rules and precautions. I believe
the reason for this was due to our young ages and inexperience. The old axiom, “Safety
First” was to be scoffed at and ignored. Yeah, we thought we were impervious to injury and
maybe we even enjoyed the idea of “taking a chance”. And maybe I just described the
personality that makes a great submariner.
 Jerry Poirier, EN2 (SS), a career sailor on his second hitch, was very, very careful when
we would, say, replace a heavy heat exchanger with a come-along. We used to laugh at
him for his precautions to prevent an injury. Today I salute him and now realize he was
protecting me and also teaching me.
 I once learned a specific lesson the hard way after realizing I could have been the fault of
a shipmate being seriously hurt or even killed. But since he wasn’t hurt we can also look at
the humorous side of the incident. And it was funny -- afterwards.
 Remember the deck hatch in the passageway next to the galley? The hatch was in the
center of the passageway and was the access to the dry storeroom under the galley. Often
the cook would instruct a mess cook to go down and get 5 cans of peas or some such food
item. The mess cook would open the hatch, secure it against the starboard bulkhead latch
and lower the chrome bar guard to a horizontal position over the opening. The guard was
about waist high and was there to prevent a crew member from falling into the opening. The
guard was a safety feature. And if a crew member was moving forward or aft in the
passageway all they had to do was raise the guard, step over the opening and then place
the guard back in the blocking position. Simple, but safe.
 OK – everyone now remembers. But, when I was mess cooking and was told to bring
something up from the storeroom I never used the safety bar. I reasoned that everyone
would see the hole in the deck and they would just step over the opening. I reasoned this
was easier to do and less trouble than raising the guard, stepping over the opening and
then replacing the guard. So this one time, I open and latch the hatch, descend down the
ladder to the storeroom deck and am busy looking for something the cook has asked for. I'm
facing the port bulkhead with the ladder behind me when all of a sudden I hear this loud
noise. Scared the hell out of me and I turned around to see what the noise was and saw
Harry West, SN (SS), lying on the deck with a bunch of books scattered around him. West’s
face was chalk white. Instantly I saw Doc Pfeiffer scrambled down the ladder to check West
out. I rushed over to help him up and see if he was injured, knowing the accident was my
fault. That was about a 7 or 8-foot drop and yet West wasn’t hurt. He was young, small,
with a muscular build and that probably helped prevent him from being injured. I was so
grateful he wasn’t hurt and afterwards I always put the guard down.
 Seems West was helping the yeoman and he was carrying an armload of books forward to
the yeoman’s shack. The books were held in his arms, were stacked to his chin and thus
he never saw the opening. Afterwards we all had a good laugh, including West. Some
laughed while telling what it was like to see West carrying books past the crew’s mess and
suddenly disappearing. West laughed while telling about his bewilderment of walking along
one minute, suddenly having the deck disappear beneath him and in an instant finding
himself in the storeroom. I laughed telling about the loud crash and how white West looked.
Doc laughed at the fact West was unhurt. It was over and it was funny to talk about it, but I
learned a good lesson that day.