By Leonard Hayhurst Coshocton Tribune
Petty Officer 1st Class Gary Sells is proud to be serving on the U.S. Navy’s newest amphibious transport dock ship, but he is even prouder to serve on a ship named in honor of those who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The USS Somerset is named for Somerset County, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed as passengers took the plane back from terrorists. The ship is in Mayport, Fla., [sic – it is en route to Philadelphia] readying for its maiden voyage March 1 [sic] to Philadelphia to be commissioned. From there, it will proceed to its home port in San Diego, Calif.
“I’m definitely proud to serve in memory of those who died on Flight 93. They fought to save other lives, so I feel it’s my duty to pay tribute to them,” Sells said.The 2000 River View High School graduate is a nine-year veteran of the U.S. Navy as a firefighter and first responder. He is studying fire sciences at the American Military University and has participated in combat missions overseas and served as a Navy recruiter.
Sells said he joined the Navy in search of a better life, and that’s what he pitched to prospective recruits. He hopes to retire from the Navy. Being a firefighter just makes it sweeter for him.
“I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter. Once I got the opportunity to join the Navy, I asked if firefighting was available and it was for me,” he said. “I’ve been able to live out a lifelong dream of being a firefighter.”
Somerset Public Affairs Officer Elena Pence said Sells passed a selection process to be assigned to the new ship. All of the training and instructions on how to deal with a fire aboard the ship were created by Sells, she said.
“We are starting this organization from ground zero. There was nothing for us when we got here. The sailors here had to create everything from nothing, all our programs,” she said. “What he’s done is different than any other (damage controlman). Normally, they would come onto a ship and the organization is already in place — they’re just there to maintain it. Here, he had to create it.”
Pence said fires are rare but can be dangerous because of the small space of a naval ship. Sells said he’s lucky to have never been involved with a fire that led to any fatalities or major damage.
“We can’t call the fire department. We have to have sailors on board who can quickly respond,” Pence said. “(Sells’) job is to not only do that but train others to react just as fast as he does so they have the basic knowledge to save the ship.”
Sells said fighting a fire aboard a ship is much different from dealing with a regular house fire. He said that, the way naval ships are designed, it’s easier to close off certain portions in order to contain a blaze.
“If you have a civilian fire, it’s kind of hard to contain, where here, we have different ways to contain fires, different ways we can access different spaces to combat the fires,” he said. “We can shut down different doors, shut down different ventilation, shut down different areas to keep the fire in one location.”