The "Lists"

By Bob Cohen, Ensign, Boilers Officer

    To prepare for the rigorous inspections conducted by the Pacific Fleet Propulsion Examining Board (PEB) we employed a process known as ‘MBL.’  This tried-and-true system allowed the officers of the Engineering Department to oversee, control and address the incredibly complex array of tasks required to successfully certify the ship’s propulsion plant and engineers as safe, properly trained and equipped, and fully ready for the fast-paced tempo of fleet operations.  The acronym stood for ‘Management By List.’

    It seemed that every idiot capable of carrying a clipboard would visit our engineering spaces to compile his own list of discrepancies.  While these inspectors were supposedly there to help us, in our upside-down bureaucracy each and every list of discrepancies, real or imagined, soon became the driving force behind all of our efforts.  Sometimes it seemed that putting out a real fire would take a backseat to putting out one of these brushfires.

    A PEB inspector looked at all of our damage-control equipment.  Our twin-agent system, the firefighting heavyweight, was impeccably maintained and ready for action.  When the inspector finished up, he gave us his list of discrepancies, and it took us by complete surprise.  All of our portable fire extinguishers failed. Every fire extinguisher had to have a wire seal through the discharge handle.  If you used the extinguisher, you’d break the wire seal.  The integrity of the seal would signify that the extinguisher had not been used since its last periodic maintenance check.  The inspector explained: “You got copper wire seals; you gotta have lead wire instead.”  We explained that we didn’t have any lead wire, that’s why we used copper.  “As long as the wire breaks like it’s supposed to, what’s the difference?”   The inspector drawled, “Yeah you’re right.  As a matter of fact, copper wire is gonna be authorized real soon.”  He produced a teletype message from COMNAVSEASYSCOMFIREXWIREOPS that did authorize the use of either wire – starting tomorrow.  Fireman Smith had to stay up all night long changing seals even though by daybreak, the copper ones that he replaced with lead would be okay.

    The Boilers Officer called the other engineering officers together in the wardroom.  “In an effort to reduce confusion and better manage our workload, I’d like to propose a revised and streamlined priority system.  I’m sure you’ll agree that if we successfully implement in what I’m about to describe in this department, we can go ship-wide, possibly fleet-wide.  This is cutting-edge.”  With the group’s rapt attention, he continued,  “Gentlemen, I propose that we apply three, and only three priorities to all of our many and varied tasks.  No others will be used.  The priorities will be: Highest, Top, and A-1.”  Nobody laughed.

    We had been transferring fuel oil all night, and the ship was sitting a little cockeyed as a result.  It wasn’t obvious to us, since we were on board.  It was very obvious to the Chief Engineer.  He immediately noticed when he came to work the next morning that our mast wasn’t pointed in the same exact direction as the other ships on the waterfront.  He burst into the wardroom, screaming at the Main Propulsion Assistant (MPA) who was sitting over a cup of coffee with his head in his hands.  “WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT THE LIST, MISTER?”  The MPA mumbled, “Which one?”


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