Marine Firefighting Inc.


Newsletter # 23
Please do not reprint in any form without the permission of the author.


Deep Fryers and Vessel Fires By Tom Guldner

Origionally published on in their "Sound Off" blog Sept. 4, 2012

Many ships and workboats must support their crews for extended periods of time. In addition to providing sleeping accommodations and recreational activities, there also must be adequate cooking facilities. Bad food will make a crew unhappy.

Several crews I have had the pleasure of working with do not subscribe to the doctrine that fried food is unhealthy. Thus, you will find deep fryers in many workboat galleys. Unfortunately, the deep fryer is also the source of many injuries and fires aboard vessels.

Most vessels have fire extinguishers readily available but are they the correct type for this type of fire? First, water extinguishers should not be used since they could cause the oil fire to flare up violently. If the water is plunged below the surface it might also cause a steam explosion that can send the hot oil in all directions. This can cause burn injuries and could also spread the fire.

So, what are we going to use? Let's look at some of the basic firefighting information that we are probably all familiar with. What are the types of fire? This will also lead us to the correct type of extinguishing agent. These relate to US classification.

  1. Class "A" fires involve ordinary combustibles such as paper, wood, cloth, and some types of plastic. Extinguished mainly by water extinguishers, but foam and dry chemicals may also be used.
  2. Class "B" fires involve a fuel that is a flammable or combustible liquid or gas. Extinguished with foam extinguishers. (Some gas fires may require special treatment.)
  3. Class "C" fires involve energized electrical equipment. Extinguished mainly with carbon dioxide (CO2) extinguishers. Also used are Halon, FM 200 and others.
  4. Class "D" fires involve flammable or combustible metals. Extinguished using dry powder. (Not dry chemical extinguishers)

These are the fires that we are most familiar with in the US, but what about a deep fryer? Many say that it is a liquid and therefore a Class "B" fire. Wrong.

Deep fryers use animal or vegetable oils. Cooking oil fires burn hotter than other Class "B" liquid fires and the standard Class "B" extinguishing agents are not effective. So what should be used?

The "K" classification was given to fires involving cooking oils (animal and vegetable). These oils are considered combustible liquids and not "flammable liquids because their flash point is over 100 degrees F. But they burn hotter than other Class "B" liquid fires.

Class "K" fires are extinguished using an agent that is a potassium-based liquid. The liquid reacts with the burning cooking oil in a process called Saponification. It causes a frothing reaction that actually renders the surface of the cooking oil into soap. This soap also absorbs some of the heat thus removing that part of the equation needed for continued burning. Because the potassium is in a liquid form these extinguishers are known as "wet extinguishers."

If the agent is in an extinguisher you will need to know how to use it. What is your first action when you discover a fire aboard your vessel? If you said get an extinguisher and put out the fire you are wrong. Your first action should be to alert the crew, sound the alarm and let everyone know there is a fire. If you don't alert anyone and then you become incapacitated while fighting the fire no one will know there is a fire or what your location is. Only after you sound the alarm do you consider using the correct extinguisher.

Here are few things from the US Fire Administration (and amended by me for mariners in italics) to consider when deciding if it is advisable to use the extinguisher. Use a fire extinguisher only if:

  1. You have alerted other occupants and notified the bridge of the location and severity of the fire.
  2. The fire is small and contained to a single object, such as a wastebasket.
  3. You are safe from the toxic smoke produced by the fire.
  4. You have a means of escape identified and the fire is not between you and the escape route; and
  5. Your instincts tell you that it is safe to use an extinguisher.

If all of these conditions are not present, DO NOT try to use a fire extinguisher. Alert other occupants, leave the area, and fight the fire with the proper equipment and in a coordinated manner.

If it is safe to use the extinguisher remember P.A.S.S.

Pull the pin.

Aim at the base of the fire.

Squeeze the trigger.

Sweep from side to side.

Stay on top of your training and we can all enjoy that fried catfish dinner.

Marine Firefighting Inc. is available to provide the ongoing training your crews need to keep themselves fresh and up-to-date on the latest firefighting tactics and tools.

1 Note: In Europe and Australia there are 6 classification of fires. They are:

Class A: Ordinary combustibles

Class B: Flammable liquids

Class C: Flammable gases

Class D: Combustible metals

Class E: Electrical equipment

Class F: Cooking oil or fat

Read more:

Tom Guldner, President of Marine Firefighting Inc., is a retired Lieutenant of the New York City Fire Department's Marine Division. Who also held a US Coast Guard License as a Ships Master,

He is a participating member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME) Fishing Vessel Operations and Safety panel and also their Small Working Vessel Operations and Safety panel.

Tom is also a Principal Member of the NFPA Technical Committee on Merchant Vessels. His articles on Marine Firefighting have been published both nationally and internationally. Tom can be reached at or visit his web-site at

Marine Firefighting Inc. is involved in training mariners as well as land-based firefighters in all aspects of marine firefighting.

Please leave you comments about this article (Good or Bad) in my Guest Book. Or give me your comments about any future topics you would like to see. If you prefer, you can e-mail me by clicking on the letter to the right.

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Previous Newsletters:

Newsletter # 1 "Marine Firefighting Training, Who needs it!"

Newsletter # 2 "Shipboard Basics"

Newsletter # 3 "Straight Stream Vs Fog Stream"

Newsletter #4 "Immigrants in Shipping Containers"

Newsletter #5 "Hazards of Refrigeration in the Shipping Industry"

Newsletter #6 "Stability at Shipboard Fires"

Newsletter #7 "2 in 2 out at Shipboard Fires"

Newsletter #8 "What Happened To the Air"

Newsletter #9 "What Else Can Fireboats Do - WTC Response"

Newsletter #10 "Port Security - Are We Missing the Boat"

Newsletter # 11 "Let the Coast Guard Handle It"

Newsletter # 12 "Marina Fires ... We've Gotcha Covered!"

Newsletter # 13 "Shipboard Security -- The shocking Truth"

Newsletter # 14 "Just Because It Hasn't Happened Yet!"

Newsletter # 15 "What's In Those Shipping Containers"

Newsletter # 16 "Some Problems at a Marina Fire"

Newsletter # 17 "Maneuvering Your Fireboat Near Large Ships"

Newsletter # 18 "Something New at Ship Fires - Auto Exposure

Newsletter # 19 Liquid Natural Gas (LNG)

Newsletter # 20 Use Caution at Tow Boat and Barge Fires

Newsletter # 21 Cruise Ships as Floating Hotels?

Newsletter # 22 Is Your Crew Ready for a Fire?