Wednesday, December 11, 2013
PORTLAND – A firefighter who was injured battling a fire last year aboard a nuclear submarine at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard described Friday how another firefighter nearly died in the fire and asked a judge to impose the maximum sentence on the man who set it.
Casey James Fury
Smoke rises from a Portsmouth Naval Shipyard dry dock as fire crews respond Wednesday, May 23, 2012, to a fire on the USS Miami SSN 755 submarine at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on an island in Kittery, N.H. Four people were injured.
Casey James Fury, 25, who worked at the shipyard, set fires on the USS Miami, in May and June, because he wanted to go home early. He pleaded guilty in November to two counts of arson and was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court to more than 17 years in prison and $400 million in restitution.
U.S. District Judge George Singal gave Fury 205 months in prison, less than the maximum of 235 months, which prosecutors sought, and more than the 188 months sought by Fury's attorney.
"It is only by the grace of God that no one else was more seriously hurt or killed as a result of that fire," Singal said.
Eric Hardy, a firefighter at the shipyard, described Fury's crime as "unforgiveable" and asked the judge to deliver the maximum sentence.
Fury, formerly of Portsmouth, N.H., started a fire inside the USS Miami on May 23 while it was in dry dock for repairs and rehabilitation at the shipyard in Kittery.
He left his work assignment in the torpedo room of the submarine, went to the stateroom on the mid level and used a lighter to set rags on fire before returning to his work chipping paint, prosecutors said. A co-worker smelled smoke and sounded the alarm as the fire spread quickly, fueled by oil-based enamel paint.
"This was the worst fire I've ever seen," Hardy said at Friday's sentencing hearing. "If it weren't for sheer luck, we would have had a death on that boat."
Prosecutors said 50 people were aboard the submarine when the fire started, and five firefighters were injured fighting the blaze throughout the night.
At a press conference after the sentencing, Hardy said fighting the fire aboard the sub was like "fighting a fire in a wood stove and climbing down the chimney."
"We were on our hands and knees," he said, "and even through our bunker gear, our hands and knees were burning."
He said the firefighters went in with enough oxygen to work for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, in smoke so thick that it left just 6 inches of visibility and a roar from the fire that was as loud as a rock concert.
Hardy said he was the next-to-last man out after one bout in the burning sub, and turned to drop his oxygen pack and wait for the last man to climb out of the hatch to the engine room.
"I heard a blood-curdling scream, and as I looked back, he was falling down the hatch," Hardy said, not identifying the man. "If he had fallen, he would have been dead because of the fall."
Hardy said he grabbed the falling firefighter as the man passed out, and suffered torn muscles and a herniated disc in the process.
"As he fell, he took me down the hole with him, but I was able to hold on," he said.
Nearly 10 months later, the USS Miami remains in dry dock and there is no money for repairs because of federal spending cuts that took effect March 1, said Navy Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, commander of the Navy's 27 attack submarines on the Atlantic Ocean.
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United States Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty II makes a statement during a press conference on Friday, March 15, 2012 at his Portland office regarding the former Portsmouth Naval Shipyard worker recently found guilty on federal arson charges.
Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer