Shipboard firefighting

Some of you may have by now figured out that I’m also a firefighter. I thought I’d see if people were interested in some firefighting topics. I think the best way to start is to ask three simple questions:

  1. Do you feel comfortable with your own skills, training and ability to carry out your assigned duties (or those duties you might reasonably have to assume) in a significant fire emergency on your vessel.

  2. Do you feel comfortable that your vessel’s crew will be able to handle a significant fire emergency onboard. Both from a skills/training and equipment point of view. (I know on union ships this maybe a hard question to answer)

(both questions are relative your size vessel/crew.)

  1. Would you like me to occasionally post firefighting nuggets that are maritime applicable on this forum?

Lets see-

Do I feel I/my team would respond accordingly during a fire- yes.

Do I trust the equipment- hmm… mostly.

Do I feel that the fire would be safely contained-and everyone would make it out alive? Hate to say it- but I have my doubts.

Just too many factors involved- location of fire, type of fire, location of vessel, were any crew members or equipment incapacitated in an explosion, etc. What if the lifeboats were somehow desroyed?

My former employer had an engine room fire on a riverboat. The vessel lost power and steering- and because of SOLAS requirements(lack thereof) had no lifeboats/rafts.

We were lucky- it was on a river (not at sea) and vessels nearby.

At sea- would have been very bad…

92 reads and 1 reply, either this went over like a fart in church or people need to speak up! Just cause you don’t talk about fire, doesn’t keep it from happening!

Speaking about yacht salvage and fires I think it’s very important. I think the bigger yachts have this addressed in their training programs managed by their captain and 1st mate. Surely they test their gear and drill on watch stations for emergency situations including fire.

I’ve been around a couple of yacht fires recently, one was sparked by welding while the yacht was on the hard out-of-water … and the local Fire Department was called.

Another small yacht - say 50 foot or so caught fire in the New River in Fort Lauderdale - supposedly due to engine problems. There seemed to be only 1 or 2 people onboard? They made it into a nearby marina a docked. I saw the guy walking nervously back and forth on the dock. I continued on to the yacht I was visiting … and later we observed from the stern that the small yacht was (say 20 - 30 minutes later?) fully engulfed in flames. The local FD again came … but the little yacht was pretty much destroyed. Luckily it wasn’t close enough to cause damage to other multi-million dollar yachts in adjacent docks.

I’ve mentioned probably before that I spent 4 years in the U.S. Navy. Station on a 214 foot ocean going salvage, diving, and towing vessel. We steamed independantly most of the time including crossing the Atlantic Ocean and around in the Mediterranean. So fire fighting knowledge by all hands was very important. The Navy does that way anyway. Fire fighting drills were a common occurance. In port duty sections that remained onboard usually had Fire Drill … and had to respond with full gear for these drills.

So yes I would like to hear more about this. And some others surely could use the knowledge as well.

aspicer, on a yacht, due to the size of the vessel, personnel onboard and lack of traditional FF equipment, a fire must be caught in the its early stages (incipient is the double word score word for it) At this stage, a person in “street clothes” can successfully extinguish a fire with a handheld extinguisher. If it gets beyond that, pack your flippers, your going for a swim.

One important thing, as a Navy guy, you probably know this, the area that burnt needs to be cooled and overhauled, so the fire cannot re-ignite. That said, if your vessel carries insurance (most do, right?) it is important not to do anymore more damage than needed to insure no re-ignition until you talk to the insurance company. They may wish to have a fire investigator come look at the damage. Insurance law, in some circumstances allow the insurer to recover the money they pay out from a third party if they are responsible. Its complicated law, but in the end, it saves us all money on our rates.

drkdlram, as a mariner and a firefighter where do you think the unified command post should be on a significant fire incident in port? I have been making a personal survey on this question and it appears mariners and landbased fire officers are very divided.

The Navy was very good at drills…

Every duty section had one in the evening along with a security alert while in port…At sea they thought it better to do it in the middle of the night…
I had no idea those were the good old days…

Thanks. As you are aware today with the smaller crews on commerical vessels fighting a significant fire is becoming a problem. While in port landbased fire departments are becoming more involved with shipboard fire operations. Crew and Fire Departmrnt must learn each others skills to mount a safe operation.

Shellback, I wish most merchant vessels took fire drills as serious as I have seen on naval vessels. Granted, there are lots of differences in equipment and staffing. But I have been on ships where the captain and C/M have put together excellent drills that actually test your skills, not “dumb show.” When I was a cadet, the captain organized a drill that he “ran” since he was the moderator, all the deck officers had to move up a slot (including yours truly to the 3/M). Tested everyone’s ability to think.

Bcal, as far a command post location, I see exactly where both sides in this argument come from. the bridge is the best place on the ship to run things from, but is vulnerable in its position in many fire scenarios. My opinion is CP should be located ashore. With all agencies represented there. But if the bridge is still viable, OPERATIONS should be run from the bridge. “Operations” is the designation of a command officer who actually runs suppression operations, so the incident commander can focus on the big picture. A senior vessel’s officer, or company port captain/engineer should be at both posts. One thing that fire chiefs have a hard time understanding if they are not familiar with shipboard incidents, is that the captain is still in charge. Fire department shows up at your house for a fire, its THEIR house until their done. But that is not true for a ship, the old man is still in charge. This can cause friction and ego auto-inflators to activate.

Drkblram, funny you should mention that type of drill…We had an officer that was like that…When ever he got to run a drill he would random kill off key personnel and make the rest step up…I can honestly say that as much as I disliked this guy , I learned more from him about fighting ship board fires than anyone else…

Funny how we pick up these little things and carry them forward…On a trip to Mexico a few years ago ,aboard our sailboat…I had my family run the same type of drill with me, incapacitated …They griped and complained the whole way through it…Then I explained to them what the alternative would be if the boat were to catch fire offshore and we couldn’t control it ourselves…They began to see the light and our drills were much more enjoyable…

Guys, egos aside there is a lot of information and specific manuals on the bridge that could be critical to a fire operation. I see why a Master does not want to give up that position. When he leaves the bridge to go to a unified command post ashore will he bring these documents with him or leave them in the hands of the 2nd mate on the bridge. The Coast Guard is the other part of unified command and the first member on scene may be reluctant to to make critical decisions. The additional problem regarding the huge number of ships of foriegn flag is causing prblems for shoreside Fire Chiefs. [I]Stay safe[/I]

My first exposure to fire fighting was in Navy boot camp. This was followed by advanced shoreside training while in port as a supplement to the duty section drills that were part of almost every in-port day. The ultimate training experiences were during REFTRA’s in Gitmo…As usual, reality turned out to be the humbling mix of chaos and adrenaline that some of us find addictive… We had seven fires aboard the destroyer that I served on, ranging from class A bedding fires to some shitty mixed class engineering space fires.

Prior to coming back to the maritime world I ran a business that provided contract wildfire service (Initial attack, helitack support, project fire engines, urban interface fuels reduction, etc.) and as such dealt with the ICS system. In most cases - and they are limited to large project fires - the unified command structure succeeded when there was a strong personality in the IC position that was also a subject matter expert. I don’t think that most shoreside structure fire officers have the knowledge to deal with things like stability due to the addition of fire fighting water, etc. without the input of the Captain/master of the vessel. I ssupsect that the moment the Capt/Master steps on the pier that the fire department is going to want to be top dog…
That being said, I am really disappointed in the drills that I have participated in as a cadet these last two years. On a couple of occassions I had the oppotunity to put on drills that I thought tested the skills of the crew…boy did the B*tchin’ begin! Nothing pisses me off more than watching some one start up a portable pump without actually pumping water, shut it off, and call it good to go…I went through three pump from the Crowley warehouse in JAX before we found one that didn’t have a cracked pump housing - the weather had gotten cold and they hadn’t pulled the drain plugs and drained the pumps before storing…
So please feel free to post all the fire fighting info that you have.

MT, I have ZERO, wildland experience… not interested, that stuff scares the crap out of me (a wildlands guy once told me, in reply to that comment, “yeah, but your the one crazy enough to go into a building thats on fire!”

I have been through the ICS classes that are required of all firefighters. Basically, they try to make the wildlands command system work for ALL incident types and then cram it down our throats. But that is a different subject for a different forum…

I’m afraid to say it, but too many places, at least in my experience, drills are not take seriously. The senior leadership of the vessel set the tone. Once thats set, its hard to break without a change of bodies. Yes, what we are capable of doing afloat with a 20-24 man crew (let alone a limited tonnage vessel with an even smaller crew) is limited. But lets not reduce that capability to zero by just not trying!

I really don’t have any case studies of fire incidents in port recently in regards to how the ICS system worked. About all I can think of is the classic example from the '80s on how NOT to do it, called the PROTECTOR ALPHA fire…

I agree that unified command is extremely important. The vessel master “subject matter expert” must be a part of this command structure.
However many are not from this country and are trained much differently then we are. The vast majority of ships are not captained by american masters and there is no IMO or Solas regulation that requires them to be ICS trained. There is one training center that I know of that offers a course in NIMS for vessl masters. While in port we must remember that as a part of unified command this person is a major part of the decision making process that directly impacts the operation and the safety of firefighters both mariner and land based. Stay safe.