Smoke On the Water – Part 4

November 13, 2010 -

John Heald

I am never cold. I sleep on top of the duvet, have the air conditioning on full all the time and yet as the captain gave the order to flood the engine room with CO2 I shivered. Looking down I saw my arms looked like a freshly plucked chicken. The captain had ordered the evacuation of the engine room and that was going to take some time as there were engineers, fire squads and other personnel down there and every single one of them had to be accounted for before the CO2 could be released.

 I stood by my new best friend, the PA system, and debated in my mind whether to tell the guests this or not. It wasn’t that I didn’t want them to know but I was concerned that maybe this would worry them even more than some or all probably already were. And the problem was that I had nobody to talk to about to about this. You see, after the order from the captain to send the guests to the open decks, everything I had said and done after that was on my own accord. Captain Cupisti was far too busy and I would like to think he trusted me to say the right thing.

 So I stood there by the PA system and as well as feeling cold and as well as making sure I took in huge lungfuls of air to keep myself calm and as I agonised whether to tell the guests we were about to use the CO2 system, I was surprised to find myself feeling …………well…………lonely. I am not sure if that makes any sense and while trying to decide what to say next I have a clear memory of thinking to myself also what a strange job I had.

 Is there any other job in the world where one minute you are trying to make people laugh with what a lady from the LA Times referred to as “lurid” sense of humour and the next minute have the responsibility of keeping everyone calm, informed and passing on instructions that could ultimately help save their lives.  Just a few hours before I was on stage in front of 1,500 guests with a Cougar………..the lady…………not the animal.

 The welcome aboard show often sets the scene for the cruise as far as who I am and to let the guests know that it’s OK to laugh at themselves and each other. I randomly pick 6 guests to come on stage and although the finale of the show is the good old spoon game, it is the interviews that precede it that I enjoy the most. On Sunday night I had 6 great characters on stage including a lady in her late forties/early fifties who we shall call Leah because that is her name. This is how the interview started.

ME : HELLO, WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

LEAH: LEAH

ME:  WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

LEAH:  LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA

ME:  AND WHO ARE YOU HERE WITH?

LEAH:  MY 3 BEST FRIENDS KELLY, MONICA AND VICKI

ME:  OH, SO NO MEN THEN?

LEAH: ABSOLUTLEY NOT – WE ARE COUGARS AND WE ARE ON THE PROWL (Note: After she said the word “prowl” she gave a mediocre roar and did that claw thing with her hand)

ME:  WHAT ARE YOU ON THE PROWL FOR?

LEAH:  YOUNG FIT MEN WHO LIKE TO PAARRRRTTTTTIIIIEEEEE

Now, this is all well and good but what got me is after she said this not only did the audience laugh, many of them applauded and I just don’t get that……. I don’t understand why we 1,500 guests were applauding and cheering to celebrate the fact that a late forties early fifties woman had publicly stated that she and her mates were looking for young men. Had the genders been reversed, would they had applauded and cheered? 

Would they have cheered and laughed out loud if I had been the one on stage and admitted that I was looking forward to having rumpy pumpy with 25-year-old girls? Of course they wouldn’t. There would have been cries of pervert and letters to the captain demanding I’d be thrown off the ship and returned to a place where this kind of behavior is acceptable………… like France.

All of these thoughts and memories lashed through my mind in seconds mixed with the decision if to tell the guests or not. A few moments later my thumb resumed its now all too familiar position on the microphone.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – THE CAPTAIN HAS MADE THE DESCION TO FLOOD THE ENGINE ROOM WITH CO2 AND ONCE ALL THE PERSONNEL HAVE BEEN ACCOUNTED FOR THEN THIS OPERATION WILL BEGIN. I PROMISE TO REMAIN RIGHT HERE AND GIVE YOU LIVE REPORTS. IF YOU NEED ANYTHING PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU ASK ANY OF THE CREW.

CREW, THANK YOU, PLEASE KEEP DOING WHAT YOU ARE DOING, TALK TO THE GUESTS AND TELL YOUR SUPERVISORS IF YOU SEE ANYTHING THAT YOU THINK WE NEED TO TAKE CARE OF. 

That last crew announcement, like all the announcements I made, was put through the emergency system. This meant that unlike during a normal operation where I would talk to the crew in their areas only, all the announcements were being heard by the guests. And actually I wanted the guests to know what I was saying to them……..I wanted all the guests and the crew to be united during these uncertain times…………..I truly felt that this was very important indeed.

Some 15 minutes after Captain Cupisti gave the order to evacuate the engine room, the staff captain reported that all the crew had been accounted for but the captain wanted it checked again. This had to be done right because if someone had still been in that area with the CO2 going off then that someone would most probably die.

A second check confirmed that all the crew was present and after closing the water tight and fire screen doors Captain Cupisti gave the order to flood the fire with CO2.

And now we had to wait. Breakfast was very busy on Lido Deck as all the guests were of course already up and around. At that time the chefs had already prepared some breakfast food so apart from being busy at least some managed to get some usual breakfast fare. I don’t think any of us realised that it was the last proper meal they would have for the next three days.

I kept talking to the guests, I can’t remember what I said during the time we waited to see if the CO2 operation had been a success or not. I am sure it was mostly waffle but as I promised them, I kept them informed with an announcement every 10 minutes even if I had nothing new to tell them.

During this wait and see period the captain wanted to call the command center in Miami. These days we have so many ways of doing this. Internet, satellite phones, cellular at sea all of which need power…….we had bugger all. This meant for the next few days the only way for us to communicate with the outside world was through one phone on the ship. It’s called the EMMASAT and it has its own power system and there is apparently nowhere in the world where you can’t get a signal and make a call………except Arkansas, of course. 

So the captain was on the phone with the command center which because Miami time is three hours ahead was already full of Carnival beards. I want to say thanks to them now because I am sure to forget later. This team was there 24 hours a day and is still there now in fact. Many slept in their offices, including Gerry Cahill, our president and CEO. They kept an open line to the ship and that meant so much to the captain and all of us. Thanks to everyone there……. although telling us you had Tony Roma’s delivered for dinner on Thursday night was just cruel.

Finally, after about an hour and a half after giving the order to disperse the CO2 fire squad Alpha re entered the engine room followed by fire squad Charlie. We waited — the bridge was once again mostly silent. The only noise coming from the fire detection system which kept sounding a constant alarm telling us there was a fire. Then over the walkie talkie I heard the staff chief engineer’s voice.

THE SMOKE IS DECREASING. WE CAN SEE THAT THERE IS NO FIRE, NO FIRE, ONLY SMOKE NOW ONLY SMOKE NOW. 

CAPTAIN – OK, START COOLING DOWN THE AREA. CAN YOU REACH THE VENTILATION DOORS?

STAFF CHIEF – YES WE CAN SEE THEM NOW.

CAPTAIN – OK, LETS OPEN THE VENTILATION DOORS AND LET THE REMAINING SMOKE GET OUT.

STAFF CHIEF – OK, OPENING VENTILATION DOORS.

While I won’t say we all started singing “Oh, what a beautiful morning” on hearing this news, we all breathed a bit easier I think because the words “no fire, only smoke” brought huge dollops of relief to us all. You see until then we had no idea what was at the heart of all of this. Was the engine room a raging inferno or was it just a flameless fire? The only flames the squads had seen had been coming from the cabling but because the smoke was so thick we really had no idea what we would find.

So the captain had given the order to open ventilation doors which would help the smoke rise and pass all the way up and out of the ship and now I needed to tell the guests what was happening.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – IT’S ME AGAIN AND I HAVE THE FIRST GOOD NEWS OF THE DAY. THE REPORTS FROM THE ENGINE ROOM ARE THAT THE SMOKE HAS BEGUN TO DISSIPATE AND THAT INSPECTIONS SHOW THAT THERE ARE NO FIRES. THE ONLY FIRE WAS ON SOME ELECTRICAL CABLING WHICH HAVE BEEN EXTINGUISHED.  

THE CAPTAIN HAS ORDERED THE VENTILATION SHAFTS TO BE OPENED AND YOU MAY SEE SOME SMOKE COMING OUT OF THE FUNNEL AREA AND ON DECK 10. PLEASE DON’T WORRY, THIS IS THE REMAINING SMOKE FROM THE ENGINE ROOM WHICH IS BEING SUCKED OUT.

SO, HOW ARE YOU? ARE YOU OK? LET’S ALL TAKE A DEEP BREATH. WE ARE OK, WE ARE OK. PLEASE REMAIN WHERE YOU ARE AND WE WILL GET YOU BACK TO YOUR CABINS AND BACK TO BED AS SOON AS WE CAN. 

CREW – PLEASE CONTINUE WITH THE GREAT JOB YOU ARE DOING.

And some 45 minutes after that announcement and after inspections of the guest corridors had shown that while the smell of smoke was still obvious in some areas, most of the smoke had gone, the captain gave the order for crew to leave their general emergency stations and that the guests could return if they wished to their cabins and that was me back on the PA system again.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – THE CAPTAIN HAS GIVEN PERMISSION FOR YOU TO GO BACK TO YOUR STATEROOMS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BEING SO CALM AND UNDERSTANDING DURING THE PAST FEW HOURS. I WON’T DISTURB YOU WITH MORE ANNOUNCEMENTS UNLESS THERE IS SOMETHING YOU NEED TO KNOW. 

I WOKE MOST OF YOU UP THIS MORNING AND MANY OF YOU HAVE BEEN CONCERENED AND POSSIBLY SCARED BUT THANKS TO OUR BRILLIANT CREW ALL IS WELL AND YOU CAN RETURN TO YOUR BEDS OR ENJOY THE MORNING SUNSHINE. CREW, THANK YOU ALL, YOU WERE WONDERFUL. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR GENERAL EMERGENCY STATIONS.

When I was 17 I truly believed that Sally Poole would want to have rumpy pumpy with me. She didn’t. She didn’t want to have rumpy pumpy with me so much that she told me I made her vomit. I was naive, I truly felt that she would want to see me naked and in the same way I truly believed that now the threat of fire had gone that we would start the engines and apart from maybe being a wee bit late into Puerto Vallarta that all would be well.

I didn’t realise that in many ways the worst was yet to come and that 45 minutes after telling the guests I wouldn’t disturb them over the PA system again…….I would make an announcement that would mark the start of 3 days that none of us would ever forget.

Join me again on Monday for part 5……Sunday needs to be a day of rest, and laundry, so instead I will be sharing a letter from one of the guests that was onboard the Carnival Splendor. I stayed in a hotel last night and the joy of a hot shower was beyond description and me and my dangly bits are clean once more.

By the way, just before I go, I wonder how the Cougars handled this whole thing. I wonder if they were still dressed as I saw them at the Captain’s Celebration earlier on Monday night. I am sure that when I made the announcement for all guests to go to the open decks that many grabbed what they had been wearing the night before and meant the Cougars were standing on the open decks at 7 am in the morning in miniskirts and you-know-what me shoes.

See you on Monday everyone and thank you all for the wonderful comments. 

Your friend

John

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.

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