The Marine Firefighting Institute

Newsletter # 16

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

Some Problems at a Marina Fire

By Tom Guldner

On Sunday, January 16, 2005 a fire broke out on a 50' houseboat at the Kentucky Dam Marina on Kentucky Lake, Kentucky. It was just last June that Marine Firefighting Inc. presented it's "Small Boat and Marina Fire" seminar for some of the surrounding Fire Departments.

Upon arrival, the Gilbertsville Fire Department found that the initial fire on the houseboat had already extended to a 46' cabin cruiser tied up at the next dock. (See photo left of this boat after it was raised from the bottom. Photo courtesy of Capt. Todd Devine of the Gilbertsville Fire Department) The quick size-up and rapid advancement of both water and then foam hose lines kept this fire from extending any further. The East Marshall County Fire Department brought in a fire boat and the Calvert City Fire Department brought firefighting foam. Other agencies also provided support services at this operation.

Unfortunately there were no photos taken the night of the fire but in response to my request for photos, Captain Todd Devine of the Gilbertsville Fire Department did ask me a few questions about some problems encountered at this fire. After I completed my reply I felt that it might be a good idea to share these problems with my readers and other Fire Departments.

Here is Captain Devine's letter to me and suggestions (in italic and underlined) which I had for some of the problems he described. Remember, each fire is different. You will have to set up you own operations based on the conditions that you are presented with.

"The fire was paged out at 3 minutes till midnight and I was first on scene 9 minutes later. It was paged as a boat on fire and about 3 minutes from the initial page. We were told by our dispatch that there was a second boat on fire. When I arrived there were several problems such as people living on the dock not wanting to leave their boats and the marina owners wanting to cut the burning boats loose from the dock." Call for PD immediately. Set up drills including PD so that they are aware of the problems and this will relieve your Firefighters from this task. You can also work with the marina staff at pre-fire plan visits to ask their help in setting up guidelines for their customers to immediately evacuate the docks in the event of a fire.

"The boats involved were the second and third slips from the front of the dock which has an estimated 65-70 slips, both boats were partially pushed out from the roof which was a major factor in not being worse than it was since the flames were not whipping back down on other exposures." At a marina fire you can either move the exposed boat or the boat on fire. When "covered slips" are involved it may be best to remove the boat on fire from under the roof to prevent the tremendous build up of heat. However, you must maintain control of that boat to keep it from drifting into uninvolved areas of the marina. See my newsletter #12, "Marina Fires....We've Gotcha Covered". Also note the open construction of the ridge line of the roof in the background of the photo on the left taken after the fire at the Kentucky Dam Marina. This type of venting will greatly reduce the buildup of heat on the underside of this type of roof structure. Other methods include placing inserting fire stop trenches along the roof and installing sprinkler systems. Again, see the above Newsletter # 12 about precautions.

"There was a fuel dock approx. 100 foot from the burning boats and the owner (there are three) was asked to shut the fuel off which later turned out had a padlocked hatch so no one could get to it." In my seminar I bring out the importance of setting up pre-fire plans for each marina. This would include locating and learning the operation of all fuel and electric shutoffs. It is quite possible that this marina also had a separate manual shutoff in addition to an emergency electric shutoff. (See photo on right of manual fuel shutoff found beneath a manhole during one of my marina visits as part of MFIs full day "Small Boat and Marina Fire" seminar. Even the marina staff was unaware of this shutoff.)

"When the first truck arrived a 2 1/2" line was pulled and water from a hydrant was manned to start protecting the exposures and two 1 3/4" lines were pulled to attack the fire. The hose lay was approx. 150' from the truck and water was from a 6" main so water was not a problem. Also another 1 3/4" line was pulled and placed in operation on the fuel dock to protect it if needed." In the pre-fire-plan mentioned above, all sources of water should be indicated. In this case, the 150' stretch was not a major problem, but in other marinas a drafting site might be a closer source than a remote hydrant. In either case you should also consider alternate sources in case one is not available or fails during your operation.

"East Marshall fire department's fire boat was called by the park police before we arrived on the scene. With our radio traffic trying to set up and their radio traffic trying to get to the scene, communications was a very big problem. Communication with the boat was a big problem as they advised us that they could not hear the radio with the engine running." Small fireboats with loud engines should, at least, have the boat operator equipped with a good head set with sound deadening ear pieces attached to the boat's radios (Fire and Marine frequencies). Also, make use of the MARINE radio frequencies to reduce the amount of radio traffic on your FD radio. The MARINE radio is also a good way for one Department to communicate with the fireboat of another Department which may be operating on a different fire frequency. Get together with your local Coast Guard to determine which marine frequencies can be used.

"Foam was used after the initial knockdown of the fire both from eductors on the dock and from the boat. One problem that I saw with the boat they have is that it is not controllable when they are flowing water. At one time they were spinning in circles until finally they tied up to the dock. They flowed 65 gal. of foam and a lot of that was put in the water instead of the boat. I have since talked to a fire boat representative and found out that they use two outboards to control the force of flowing water from a monitor (can you elaborate any other ideas?)" Generally there is very little back pressure when operating with foam. In FDNY our SOP was that when a bow monitor was used for a water stream from a small boat, which was not tied up, the nozzle operator was limited to only making vertical (up and down) movements. If a horizontal (left or right) movement was needed it would be made by the boat operator who would aim the boat in the desired direction. The boat operator would be in a better position to FEEL the nozzle reaction and be able to compensate with the throttle and/or rudder. This maneuver is something that must be mastered by constant practice. Whenever possible, the small fireboat should be securely tied to a dock or other substantial stationary object. Whenever operating any stream from a small boat you must always be prepared to immediately shut down if you start to lose control of your vessel. The velocity of the water from a master stream could kill or injure anyone it struck. Many tactics are discussed in our seminars and we are also available to consult with your Department on setting up your own small boat program.

"Life jackets were unfortunately not used on any firefighter except for the three that were on the boat." Life jackets or PFDs (personal floatation devices) should be worn by all personal who will be operating on a small boat AND also those operating on a floating dock near the fire.

"Hopefully this has answered most of your questions and as for anything I feel that could be brought out, people staying on the dock to either watch or to try and protect their property, although I feel for them, it is after all only property and if at all possible they should be made to leave the dock. This did not happen even after requesting the park police to remove them. Fortunately this was not a major fire. Although we had a lot of luck keeping it from becoming such. (but I will take luck any day)." This was answered above when I suggested drilling with the PD so that everyone is aware of the problem. You can't expect your Firefighters to get involved in crowd control.

"The fire started, probably from an electric heater, but that is still to be determined by the fire marshal. It was at the front of the dock and if it had continued catching other exposures approx. 65-70 boats would have been destroyed since the fire would have been traveling away from us. Always remember the golden rule of operations. Life, Locate, Exposures, Confine, Extinguish, and I add Critique as the last step. At most fires you will be able to accomplish several or all of these steps at the same time IF you have adaquate resources. In our seminar we discuss a multi-million dollar marina fire where the Chief followed the golden rule and overcame what was considered insurmountable obstacles. His command priorities are discussed in detail. Do not just jump to the extinguishing phase if your resources are so limited that you may not even be successful in the Confinement phase.

The night of the fire it was approx. 35 degrees and the sky was cloudy, but we didn't have but a couple of spots freeze and become ice, both of which were not in the dock area. But any colder and we would have had a big problem with slippery docks." You don't need ice to make these docks slippery. On any day there could be slippery conditions from morning dew, fuel and oil spills, firefighting water and foam concentrate, and even from the residue a good catch of fish that was recently thrown from a boat to the dock. All Firefighters must be aware of the slipping hazard that is always present in a marina.

"Also one more thing I would like to ask you. We have looked at a boat before and are now talking about the idea again and trying to request one with the federal grant money. We were looking at somewhere between a 25 and 30 foot boat. What suggestions would you have in specking out a boat? Anything you can tell us would be greatly appreciated and if you have any further questions please don't hesitate to write."

There are too many parameters and preferences involved in designing and outfitting a small fireboat for me to give you a full answer here. We at MFI are ready to sit down with you to discover the risks your community presents and the type of marine response that might be required to mitigate those risks. Here are just a few of the things you must take into account when considering the purchase of a fireboat.

1)- the best hull type for your intended operations and harbor or water conditions 2)- the best power source (jet drive inboard, outboard, etc.) 3)- the main purpose of the vessel (small boat fires, tow boat and barge fires, shipboard firefighting, first aid and vessel in distress responses, etc. 4)- pumping capacity based on the main vessel purpose above 5)- type of pump (take off from jet drive, take off from inboard propulsion to pumps, portable pumps, dedicated fire pump, etc. Note: any pump using power taken from propulsion engine to operate pumps should allow for some propulsion power remaining in order to maintain your vessels position. 6)- Then you come to the BIG WORLD OF OPTIONAL EQUIPMENT. This can be a major problem because you will be limited as to the amount of weight you can add.


Congratulations to the Gilbertsville Fire Department, the Calvert City Fire Department, and the East Marshall County Fire Department on a job well done. You took the information from my seminar and put it into action preventing this fire from extending any further than where it was found upon your arrival. And most importantly, as repeated several times during my seminar, no one gets hurt. If there's no life at risk, DON'T RISK YOURS!!!!!

Marine Firefighting Inc. is available to present our "Small Boat and Marina Fire" seminar, or any of our Marine Firefighting seminars, for your Department. Do you feel that this valuable information should be available to your Firefighters? Do you want the post action report of your next marina fire to include the words, "AND NO ONE WAS INJURED"? Contact us today to set up a date for your seminar.

Stay safe,

Tom Guldner

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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"