The Marine Firefighting Institute

Newsletter # 14

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

Just Because It Hasn't Happened......

"When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience in nearly forty years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales, and storms and fog and the like. But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident ... of any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort."

Edward J. Smith, 1907 Captain, RMS Titanic

(struck iceberg and went to the bottom just five years later)

Captain Smith may have felt a little complacent about the chances of an accident because it hadn't happened to him before. Today many Fire Departments are making this same mistake which sent the Titanic to the bottom. Just because you haven't suffered a ship fire does not mean that it will not happen.

Many port city Fire Departments have neglected training, manning and equipment in the Marine Firefighting area simply because there has not been a recent ship fire. That is the type of thinking we would expect from civilians. They never had to see the horror a Firefighter is presented with. If they had, you would expect them to realize that the Firefighter is there IF there is a fire. Budget problems are affecting almost every municipality but we must temper our desire to cut cost with the fact that government's main function is to protect it's citizens. Closing firehouses and selling Fire Boats should not be a budgetary option. These things are a citizens "First Line of Defense" against the ravages of fire.

Luckily ship fires do not occur often - or do they? Here are just a few recent marine fires, and only within the USA, and just within the past 4-years:

- SS Edward Carter Loaded Ammunition ship fire kills two near Southport, North Carolina

- SS Norway Cruise Ship explosion and fire kills six in Miami, Florida

- Cruise ship fire just offshore from Miami, Florida

- Research Vessel Balmoral Sea burns and capsizes near New Orleans, Louisiana

- Cruise ship Destiny and passengers drift for 27 hours after engine room fire

- Container ship Torm Africa burns near Savannah, Georgia

- Fire aboard the Cruise Ship Nieuw Amsterdam near Glacier Bay, Alaska

- Fire aboard a NYC Ferry causes $1.2 million in damage

- Tug Boat Nickie B burns for 5-days near Charleston, South Carolina

- Explosion and fire of barge loaded with 100,000 barrels of gasoline kills two in Staten Island, New York

- Explosion blows section of deck off oil barge near Plaquemine, Louisiana

- Towboat with 92,000 gallons of diesel in the Mississippi River near Baton Rouge, Louisiana suddenly burst into flames.

-June of 2002 fire on the M/V Great Land, a 790-foot roll-on/roll-off cargo ship loading in the Port of Anchorage

- Fire aboard the high speed ferry Seastreak New York with 198 passengers enroute from New Jersey to New York

- At least 10 people were killed when a New York ferry packed with commuters slammed into a concrete pier as it was docking in Staten Island, New York (although there was no fire in this last accident; what if there had been?)

- 2/28/04 T/V Bow Mariner explodes, burns and sinks just 50 miles of the Virginia coast. 21 dead.

-April 25, 2004 - Ft. Lauderdale, Florida- Blaze erupts again aboard ship after 10 firefighters barely escape inferno.

-March 23, 2006 The M/V Star Princess fire killed one and injured 13 as fire spreads up balconies (See Newsletter 18)

-May 6, 2005 British Firefighters airlifted to fight engine room fire aboard cruise ship Calypso. (Not USA but an important first)

- There have also been more than five multimillion dollar marina fires in the USA during those same 3-years.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. If your port or water front hasn't suffered a major marine fire or emergency recently you should consider yourself lucky. The possibility has always been there and the risks have only increased since September 11, 2001. Government administrators must realize that agencies which protect the lives of their citizens can not be used in the budget shuffle, and must never be used as a political football to gain headlines.

OK, I'm also a realist. If there is no money for new Fire Boats, or for supplying the informational seminars and training Firefighters need to be able to operate at marine incidents, then we must be creative. There are many, untapped, sources of money available to the fire service. Many Departments are aware of the Federal Grants available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) but they have not even put in an application. The applications are available on the FEMA webiste where you can also find help on how to fill out them out! Additionally, the website also gives clues into how the requests should be best worded in order to have a better chance of being accepted for a grant. A motto of a state lottery says, "You gotta be in it to win it!" The same thing goes for these grants.

Another source of funds may be through other agencies of the new Office of Homeland Security. If you Department is located in a port, you may be needed to help patrol and protect that port. To do this you will need equipment such as a boat. Many Port Authorities are receiving BILLIONS to beef-up security. Isn't security also insuring that the port will remain open if an attack does occur? Don't Firefighters have to know how to fight a ship fire without sinking it in the main channel of that port in order for that port to stay open? Perhaps Port Authorities will have to become proactive in this area if the ports Fire Departments are going to have Marine Firefighters capable of this task. Give them a call and see what can be worked out jointly.

Some State governments offer grants under many different agencies. Environmental Protection Agencies may provide money if your Department will be actively engaged in emergency clean up of oil spilled at a ship fire or accident.

Regardless of where the money comes from, our government (local, state, and federal) must act responsibly when determining where to allocate its tax dollars. Please remember that the safety of our citizens is what we should all be about.


Tom Guldner (FDNY ret.)

1. The Law Offices of Countryman & McDaniel website at

See our latest seminar dealing with fires and emergencies aboard "Tow Boats and Barges" on our inland rivers and waterways. (Click on title to go there now!)

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Previous Newsletters: Enjoy but please do not reprint without permission.

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"