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Danger in Fire Room 2 of

the U.S.S. Iowa

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The following account demonstrates some of the terrible dangers that existed below decks in the Spanish American war vessels, powered by coal and steam. Here the danger of explosion, the result of water hitting the extremely hot furnaces, was very real. It took some rapidly-thinking men to go beyond the usual call of duty and avert catastrophe.

The Account:

An act of singular bravery was performed on A the 20th of July on board the IOWA by two members of her engineers' force.

Shortly before 7 o'clock in the morning it happened that a manhole gasket blew out in one of the boilers of fire-room No. 2. The fireroom immediately filled with live steam and the floor was covered with boiling water, flying from the boiler under a pressure of 120 pounds.

Robert Penn, Second-Class Fireman, USS IOWA

Robert Penn, Fireman. 2nd Class

Coppersmith P. B. Keefer and Second-class Fireman Robert Penn, who were stationed in adjoining compartments, rushed instantly to the rescue.  Penn entered fire-room No. 2 just in time to save an injured coal-passer from falling into the boiling water which covered the floor. He carried the man, who bad both feet scalded and a wound on his forehead, to a safe place and then ran back.  Keefer, who heard the noise, had in the meantime dashed below and found his way through the blinding steam to the two inboard furnaces and hauled [removed] the fires.  In the meantime Penn had the extra feed pump turned on in the after fire-hold and built a bridge by throwing a plank across some ash buckets.  Fireman Smith, who wished to assist Keefer, bad both legs terribly scalded by the boiling water on the floor.  Penn, while Passed Assistant Engineer Stockney held the plank in place, then hauled the two remaining fires, and thus the imminent danger of an explosion was averted by his and Keeler's fearlessness and quickness.  Both men were awarded the Medal of Honor.


Excerpted  from:

Duffield, Brig. Gen. H. M., U.S.V., Deeds of Valor. (Detroit: The Perrien-Keydel Company, 1906). 359-362.

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