The Marine Firefighting Institute

Newsletter # 7
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2 in 2 out

At Shipboard Fires

By Tom Guldner


A branch of the Unites States Department of Labor known as the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set standards regarding requirements for respiratory protection and basic manning levels during firefighting operations inside of a structure. Although these standards are not directly aimed at shipboard fires, many of the safety requirements can be applied in the marine environment.

Basically the regulations state that during a fire, any interior operations requires the use of positive pressure self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) if the atmosphere of the enclosure is considered Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH). It further states that during this operation, any interior entry must be made by a minimum of two firefighter who must be in constant visual or voice contact with each other. While this interior team is operating they must also be in direct voice or radio contact with firefighting personnel outside of the structure.

Be aware that IDLH atmospheres are not limited to smoke filled environments. These regulations apply whenever entry is made into any atmosphere immediately dangerous to life and health. This would include oxygen deficient atmospheres as well as toxic or poisonous atmospheres. Many areas aboard ships will be applicable to this regulation.

Additionally, while the interior team is operating, another team of at least 2 firefighters must be standing by outside to be immediately available for rescue operations should the interior team have an emergency. Hence the title 2 in 2 out.

I have advocated similar guidelines for operations at ship fires for several years. Many fire departments view a fire aboard a ship as a transportation fire and not a structural fire. However, a ship is in reality a floating structure. In fact, some of the worlds largest ships can rival the size of many hi rise structures as depicted in the photo to the right. Further complicating the problems in the marine environment, aboard ships we do not have the rigid structural building codes which require adequate exits and exit routes. Consequently, search and rescue efforts at a ship fire can be even more challenging than at land based structural fires. Maze like corridors and self closing watertight doors can trap firefighters as well as passengers.

My recommendations add several additional features to the newer 2 in 2 out policy. I would require that for each interior team who will be operating "on-air", a fire officer be assigned with the sole duty of monitoring the time the interior team is operating and ordering that team out while their air supply is still sufficient to allow them to return to the outside safely. This "air monitor officer" must not be given any additional duties which could interfere with his main duty of monitoring the members air supply.

In addition to the exterior team required to standby for possible rescue of the interior team, I would also add an entire backup team to be immediately available to relieve the interior team when they are ordered out by the control officer. A ship fire will be a manpower intensive operation. Limitations of the thirty minute air tank and the extreme heat conditions will mandate frequent relief of operating forces. (I recommend one hour bottles at ship fires). Also, the idea of changing air bottles and going back in should not be an option for land based firefighters. Adhere to the old adage of "Change the man. Not the bottle." To do this, Chief officers must anticipate the increased manpower demands and call in adequate manpower early to allow for the many required relief's.

Mariners are dealing with a different set of manning rules. When at sea you cannot just call in more manpower. Their firefighting force will be limited to their original crew. With the recent reductions in crew size this can sometimes mean as few as twenty five crew members.

The 2 in 2 out policy is an important advancement for firefighters safety. However, it should not be limited to structural fires but applied to shipboard firefighting also. Used properly it will greatly reduce the risks to interior firefighting personnel. Use it. Don't abuse it!

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"