The Marine Firefighting Institute

Newsletter # 1
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Marine Firefighting Training…..
Who Needs It!

by Tom Guldner

Many land-based firefighters have the feeling that a fire is a fire, no matter where it is. "Just point me at the flames and I'll put out anything!"

This macho attitude may get the admiration of the uninformed and easily impressed. However, experienced Firefighters know that you never stop encountering new things and learning from them. In some way, every fire is different and that's what makes this job so interesting.

Fighting a fire on a ship is in some ways similar to fighting a structural fire; but there are many very crucial exceptions. Access is a good example. When you arrive at a building, there is a door. You may have to force it, but you know that it is the way in. When you arrive at a fire aboard a ship at anchor there are no doors. If you're lucky there will be an "accommodation ladder" angled and unsupported down the side of the ship. If you are then able to step from the pitching and rolling deck of your boat onto this ladder you will find that each step will send this possibly 30-year-old, 80-foot, unsupported accommodation ladder bouncing several feet up and down. Just climbing this thing is a chore. Add bunker gear and it becomes an exhausting and unsafe challenge! And what about your tools, masks, and hose, and any other special equipment that will be needed? The equipment problem is answered by looking on the deck of most large ships. They must load and unload their own supplies and heavy machine parts so there will be some form of lifting device. Whether it is a boom, a davit, or a crane, it is the best way to get your equipment and fire gear aboard.

Once aboard you will be confronted with something you might be familiar with. It is a hi-rise building with about a dozen major operating systems. Only this building is on its side, and can move. Just as building construction in important to structural firefighting, knowledge of ship construction can be the difference between life and death to shipboard firefighting. If you get lost during a search (very common at ship fires) the knowledge of bulkhead and frame markings may either lead you out, or enable help to get to you. Some questions you should ask yourself are:

-Why were you handed a rope when you asked the crew to give you a hand with a line?
-Do you know what a bulkhead or a frame is?
-How about the difference between a deck and a level?
-Where is the Bo's'n locker, the bilge, or shaft alley?
-What is a cofferdam?
-Where is the fire?

There are several places aboard ship where detectors and alarms will indicate the source of smoke and heat. Would you know where to find them? After you determine the location of the fire, how are you going to get there? Aboard ships there are several sets of fire plans and ship plans which will give you the layout of the ships decks, stairs, phones, watertight bulkheads, self closing fireproof doors, etc. Would you know where to look for these plans? If found, would you know how to read them?

-What is burning?
-What is in the cargo holds or tanks?
-Are hazardous materials aboard?
Where would you find out this information?
-How are you going to keep the ship from sinking?
Or worse, violently capsizing from the weight of all of the firefighting water?
-How are you going to ventilate this fire?
With ship fires, sometimes the question is if you are going to ventilate. At many ship fires you will be removing ventilation and "buttoning up" the ship!

If you were able to solve the problems I just presented then possibly you may not need training in Shipboard firefighting. Personally, I'm not young enough to know everything! I hope I have captured your attention enough for you to realize that you may need this information.

This series of articles is not intended to teach you everything about Marine Firefighting. The Coast Guard combined course in Basic/Advanced Shipboard Firefighting for mariners is 45 hours of lectures and practical application. My articles will only allow me to discuss a few of the problems we just mentioned. I will be writing about a field of Firefighting that has been neglected in both training and budget allocation for many years. I hope that these articles will give you some important safety information but I also want them to demonstrate to you that your department must take Marine Firefighting Training seriously.

Our next article will start with the basics. We will learn the nomenclature of some places and things aboard ship. You don't have to become an "old salt", but you should know direction aboard. Forward, aft, amidships, bow, stern, port, starboard, below, and above. You will learn the markings on the outside of the ship, the plimsol line, draft markings, hold bulkhead marks, which will all give you valuable information about the stability of the ship and possibly the location of the fire. We will also mention some of the structural elements of a ship that may apply to Marine firefighting.

Remember, your department doesn't have to have a port in its district for this information to be important. If your district is merely adjacent to a waterway where these ships pass, you may be called when its engine room erupts in fire. You may also be called in on mutual aid to a neighboring district that does have a port or river frontage.

Are you ready?

Stay Safe!


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.

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