Boiler Technicians (BT’s) are also known as Firemen in the United States Navy (USN).  The job of a BT was among one of the most hidden but critical jobs in the Navy.  Steam-propelled ships became frequently used by the Navy in the 1840’s, though they had been tested as early as 1812.  Over the roughly hundred years between the first brigade of steam-powered naval ships, boiler technology continued to improve. By the Vietnam War in the 1960s, boiler output had nearly doubled from WWII with the introduction of D type 1200 psi boilers.

BT’s were charged with making the steam that propelled the vast majority of the Navy’s fleet through the high seas. Pictured is Boiler Technician Fireman Clark Roderick shown assisting in lighting off one of the boilers in a main engine room aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67).  The Kennedy was deployed to the Red Sea in support of Operation Desert Shield.

USN Chief Petty Officer (ret) Kevin Warren described his job as a BT a little differently, “We moved Marines across the Pacific,” said Warren. Among his assignments, Warren said he worked as a “snipe” in the fire rooms of the USS Nashville and the USS Belleau Wood among others.  The Belleau Wood was nicknamed “Devil Dog,” in part, because of its role as an amphibious assault ship that transported Marines.

Warren shared some examples of the Belleau Wood’s role transporting the “Devil Dogs,” that joined Amphibious Group 1 and Amphibious Squadron 11, becoming the world’s only forward-deployed, large-deck amphibious ship. On 24 November 1992, Belleau Wood became the last ship to sail out of the Philippines while conducting the final withdrawal of U.S. forces from Subic Bay and Cubi Point.

On a Navy ship, the boiler room or stokehold, referred to the space where water was brought to a boil; it was usually located near the bottom of the ship or “The Hole.” Regardless of how you refer to it, the boiler room on a ship was a tough place to work, and one article revered the BT’s as “The sailors that sail below.” (https://navycrow.com/snipes-of-the-navy-the-sailors-that-sail-below/)

For many years, there were disparities between the “sailors that sail below” [black hats] and the “sailors on deck” [white hats].  There is an interesting story about how snipes got their nickname from a man named Snipes.  “There was an Engineer Officer by the name of John Snipes…He demanded sleeping accommodations, and food equal to the Deck gang. He also declared that there would be no more harassment for his gang. When the ship’s Captain laughed at him, Snipes simply had his men put out the fires in the boiler. To make a long story short, Snipes brought about the changes in the system. In time, these changes extended to the entire Naval fleet. The Engineers became strictly “hands off” for the Deck gang. They became known as Snipe’s men and over the years as just snipes.” (https://navydads.com/profiles/blogs/why-the-navy-term-used-for-engineers-is-snipes)

The “snipes” on US aircraft carriers and submarines play a different function these days, as they are nuclear-powered, and the Navy continues to make efforts to expand into solar and other alternative energy sources. Despite this shift away from fossil fuel use in naval ships, boilers continue to remain a valuable and integral part of civilian life.

While the Navy marked the end of its steam engine era with the final decommissioning of Kitty Hawk in 2009, boilers continue to be used in every corner of our lives from hospitals to hotels.

Boilers were integral to the defense of our country in wars ranging from the US Civil War to Vietnam to Operation Desert Storm. In honor of Veteran’s Day, and the many men and women who have served our country, we share a heart-felt THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!

EEE was co-founded by USN veteran and Boilerman Kevin Warren with his best friend and partner Hubble Keller.  Along with their boiler, burner, controls, and boiler room equipment manufacturers, Engineered Energy Equipment provides state-of-the-art equipment to companies ranging from distilleries to food producers to hospitals to theme parks.

For more information about the manufacturers represented and products provided by Engineered Energy Equipment, go to https://eeeinc.net/products/.