Press Release

Louisville, KY Gets a Week of Marine Training

Located on the beautiful Ohio River, Louisville, KY has quite a few commercial and pleasure vessels transiting and home porting in their waters. Their training officer Captain William Whobrey and Colonel Doug Recktenwald realized there was a need for some marine training for the Louisville Fire Department so they contacted Marine Firefighting Inc.

After reviewing all of the marine hazards faced by Louisville FD it was decided to run a 6-day program including our Tow Boat and Barge Fire training, our Ferry and Excursion Vessel Fire training, our Small Boat and Marina Fire training and finish up with our Emergency Operations with Small Fireboats training.

The Tow Boat and Barge Fire program consists of 2-days of classroom training and a 3rd day when the students, under the direction of their Department officers, board a tow boat and barge for a familiarization visit. During this visit the students get a "hands-on" look at all of the tow boat and barge features and the safety equipment that was discussed during class. Later, after the familiarization visit they would run through one or more fire scenarios.

Monday started day one of the Tow Boat and Barge Fire training classroom sessions. The students were shown construction features on these vessels and we discussed the importance of their knowledge of some basic Tow Boat and Barge terminology. While the topic is serious the subjects are presented in an entertaining format with room for a few jokes and some laughter.

Like the Fire Service, the job of the Tow Boat crew is dangerous. There are many hazards they must contend with throughout every day on the water. In the classroom we discussed many of these inherent dangers and also described ways that Firefighters can avoid most of them and still get their job done. Many river barges are old and rusted. Areas that might be safe on a new barge can present hidden dangers to an uninformed Firefighter on older barges. Many hatches and manholes which lead to ballast tanks and side tanks may be loose and rusted. Photo right). Stepping on one may cause the cover to flip over and hit your leg. It might also cause you to fall.

The students were told that they should not consider stretching a hose onto a river tow until other safer approaches were tried. Whenever walking on barges from a tow boat always try to keep barges on both sides of you. You do not want to walk a barge with the river next to you. Many times you will see barge workers doing this (photo left) but that is part of their job. They sometimes must stand at the edge of a barge in order to make up lines.

Firefighters should choose the safest passage. If you walk between barges there is less chance of you falling off. Notice I said less chance. There are dangers when walking between barges also. Barge decks may be at different heights due to loaded and unloaded barges. There may be damage to the side of a barge that will leave a gap between two barges big enough for your foot and leg to fall into.

For additional information about barge safety and firefighting see our Newsletter # 20 Use Caution at Tow Boat and Barge Fires . Click on blue text to be taken to that page.

To see this information about this training program click here. Tow Boat and Barge Fire Training.

For the next part of our 6-day training program we trained for a fire or emergency aboard one of Louisville's excursion boats. The photo on the right was taken after the familiarization walk-through of the historic Belle of Louisville. The Belle of Louisville is the oldest operating Mississippi River-style steamboat in the world. Built in 1914 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (just two years after the sinking of the Titanic), she was designed to be a ferry and day packet vessel for freight work before being outfitted for work as an excursion boat. She is completely paddlewheel-driven with a steel hull that draws only 5' of water. She was able to travel on virtually every navigable inland waterway, earning her the distinction of being the most widely traveled river steamboat in the nation. The Belle was named a National Historic Landmark on June 30, 1989.

Protecting this national treasure is a responsibility that the Louisville Fire Department takes very seriously. They not only wanted the Belle protected they wanted to make sure that their Firefighters were also protected in the event of a a fire on board. Sending Firefighters into a marine fire or emergency without the proper training is not acting safely.

While the hull of the Belle is non combustible riveted steel the superstructure consists of three decks of wood construction. There is also something in the engine room that might cause a problem to the Louisville Firefighters. The Belle has three boilers which supply high pressure steam to a pair of single cylinder, non-condensing, reciprocating steam engines. High pressure steam is not something to be taken lightly (boiler pressure gauge photo left). During the hay-day of steam driven river boats there were many fatalities suffered when boilers exploded.

The engine room on the Belle was clean and efficiently run. The engineer explained the operation of everything and stressed that no one should touch anything without the approval of someone from the engine room staff.

He did not have to worry about that after they were told of the power of a boiler explosion. After the tour there was a question and answer session (photo right) where the engineer was able to explain the workings of the engine room and Marine Firefighting Inc. explained what actions should be taken in the event of an engine room fire.

It was also explained that each crew member aboard was assigned duties in the event of an emergency. This included fires, collisions, sinking, etc. Drills were held by the crew regularly and their assigned duties were posted on the vessels station bill for the engine room crew. (Photo left).

The tour above the engine room included all of the public areas where passengers were permitted and also the restricted areas where only the crew were permitted during a cruise. There were several large areas where entertainment might be provided on some cruises. The main dining room was the largest area. Everyone was shown where the entrances and exits were located and how an evacuation might take place if needed. (Photo right)

The Firefighters were told that if the emergency was under control and the passengers were in no danger then it might be best if they remained aboard until the boat reached its dock. Removing untrained civilians from a vessel while underway might cause more of a risk of injury.

The Louisville Fire Department was told that the Marine Firefighting Inc. training was just the beginning and that regular drills aboard the Belle and Louisville's other paddle wheeler, The Spirit of Jefferson, would be needed so that the Firefighters and boats crews could work together in a coordinated manner.

The photo on the left was taken during the tour of another of Louisville's excursion boats, the Spirit of Jefferson. The main engine's fuel shutoff was located in the main passenger area. (Photo left). If the firefighters had not been shown this during our drill they would not have been able to find it during a fire. The top of the door was carpeted and when the door is closed it blended in with the deck's carpeting. There was also a special key that was needed to turn the valve. It was hanging on the wall near this door. During a fire a crew member would be assigned to shut the fuel here but it is always good to know its location as a back up to that procedure.

Take a familiarization walk-through of all the excursion vessels in your area. Ask questions and take photos for those who were not working that day.

See information about this training program at Ferries and Excursion Boats.

The Louisville area also had several marinas which the LFD was responsible for. Marine Firefighting Inc. next conducted our "Small Boat and Marina Fire" training program. The classroom session lasted for 3-hours in the morning followed, after lunch, by an addition 1 1/2 hours in the classroom. During the classroom sessions photos of marinas throughout Louisville were used to show many of the safety and familiarization details that would be needed to safely fight a fire within a marina. Electrical and fuel shutoffs were shown and the procedures needed to shut off these services were discussed. In this, and all of the Marine Firefighting Inc., training safety is stressed and the idea of using the reach of your stream was repeatedly reinforced.

After the classroom session we met at a marina where Captain Whobrey had previously made arraignments for our visit. As always the walk-through began at the entrance to the marina. We discussed access problems and the possible need for assembly and staging areas in the event of a major fire. Water resources from the entrances were also pointed out.

One problem was noted immediately upon walking into the marina. Overhead electrical wires are always a hazard to Firefighters. Add the close proximity of water and it can be a killer. The photo on the right shows the overhead wires at this marina. These would need to be addressed at any major fire in this marina. Even if there were no overhead wires you would still have to address any electrical service to the docks. All electrical service to any dock where your Firefighters will be working should be shut off. In addition to shore power pedestals, this also includes the lighting on the docks.

Luckily the overhead wire problem was solved fast. As we examined the poles where the wires connected we noticed overhead shutoffs high up on the pole (Photo left). Along our inland waterways you will find electrical shutoffs located high up on utility poles. This is because of the extreme flooding some of these areas are subjected to. (See my newsletter, "How High's the Water Mama" on the Newsletter page.) The water level can rise 15' and more.

The shutoff at the top of the utility pole was connected by a long handle that could be manipulated from the ground. This kept the electrical connection well above high water but also allowed it to be shut off from the ground.

Many Departments located on our inland waterways must deal with something in their marinas which is not found as often in other areas. House boats come in all sizes. I have previously written about some of the specific dangers found on these vessels. During our walk-through with the LFD we found several very large houseboats. The walk-through should be used to find anything that can hurt you as well as anything that can help you. Make note of all electrical and fuel systems that may be present and any unusual vessels which might pose a problem.

The owner of one of the these larger houseboats (photo right) permitted us to come aboard. Whenever you get an opportunity like this you must take advantage of it but you must also remember that you are a guest. So as not to overwhelm the owner we boarded in small manageable groups.

What we found was a fully equipped home. Some of these larger house boats have every comfort and convenience you would find in a structural land-based house.

The upper deck, in addition to housing the bridge with all its steering and navigational controls, held a galley, dining area and a sitting room which could host a medium sized party (photo left). Remember, if there is a galley there will also be some kind of fuel to be used for the cooking. Generally it is some form of LPG such as propane but it could also be using alcohol for cooking. Whatever the fuel, expect to find spare bottles of propane or extra cans of alcohol. After we pointed out the features on this level we went below.

A small stairway led to the below deck area. At the base of the stair there was a hallway (Photo right) which led to the sleeping accommodations and fully appointed bathrooms. There were numerous bedrooms and bathrooms on this house boat. One was small and had bunk beds but that was the smallest of the bedrooms. One held a King sized bed and other amenities.

The bedroom on the left was considered a medium sized room. While we all were amazed at the size and complexity of the layout I tried to keep us "on track". Remember, we are here to pre-fire plan.

How would you get to a fire on the lower levels of this boat? Remember, the interior stair is narrow and winding. Firefighters could easily become disorientated and lost stretching a hose through the maze of rooms off the main hallway not to mention the punishing heat coming up the stair.

The firefighters were told that if there was no life hazard they should initially try to fight this fire from the outside. Most of the rooms below deck had windows, portholes, or vents through the side of the houseboat. Fire could initially be knocked down while standing on the relative safety of the dock, or your fireboat, if fire was on the water side. Of course, you would have already shut all power to those docks. This was covered in the classroom session and also the walk through portion of the training. Remember also that larger boats such as this will have their own source of electrical power with an onboard generator. Some of these may automatically start when the shore power is interrupted.

Remember, I said that this tactic may work when there is no life at stake. If, upon arrival, you learn that someone is trapped or missing aboard you may have to try to initiate an interior search. Remember, all safety requirements apply here as they would for a land-based fire. Full PPE, search in pairs, members operating in smoke must be mask equipped and be monitored, etc.

The last day of our 6-day training course dealt with "Emergency Operations With Small Fireboats". We took some of the LFD fireboat crews out onto the mighty Ohio River to put their fireboat through some emergency maneuvers. We first practiced setting up to tow a disabled boat. The crews were shown two methods of doing this. They were also shown the dangers of tying up to a boat in distress.

Next the crews were shown how their boat would be affected by the back pressure of the fireboat's monitor when their boat was not secured to a dock. It is not an easy task to keep your water stream on target while that back pressure, the wind, and the current are all trying to push you off target. (Photo right). We discussed several "tricks of the trade" which could help.


My thanks to all of the Firefighters and Fire Officers of the Louisville Fire Department for their dedication and active participation during this extended Marine Firefighting program. I especially want to thank Captain William Whobrey and Colonel Doug Recktenwald for their tireless efforts in making this training a reality and in their interest in the safety of not only the members of the Louisville Fire Department but also the citizens and visitors of the City of Louisville.

I hope that the training I delivered will never be needed in a life threatening situation.

But if it, is I know that these Firefighters are ready!

Are yours?

Whether it's a Tow Boat and Barge Fire, a fire on a large ship, or a small boat fire in a marina, don't your Firefighters deserve this training? Why not contact us today to set up your own training seminar and keep your Firefighters safe. or call us at 914-329-8341

The President of The Marine Firefighting Institute, Tom Guldner is a retired 33-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department. Tom spent the last 10-years of his Firefighting career as the officer of FDNY's only full time fire/rescue boat and as the training officer of FDNY's Marine Division.

He also held a USCG 100 ton Master's License and is a nationally certified instructor. Tom has addressed both Firefighter and Mariner Conventions on all aspects of Marine Firefighting. In March of 2003 he addressed the Lloyds of London Conference "Fire on Ships". Tom is currently 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. He 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 has also been a guest speaker at several national and international marine and firefighting conventions. Tom's company Marine Firefighting Inc. is involved in consulting and training mariners and land-based firefighters in all aspects of marine firefighting. He is also engaged in training both mariners and land-based firefighters about emergency operations at LNG and Crude Oil incidents. Visit his web-site at or E-mail Tom at

His seminars have also been delivered to Fire Departments, marinas, and commercial marine companies all over the USA and Internationally. To see a list click here.

If you have any questions for Marine Firefighting Inc., or if you would like to schedule this training seminar for your company or Fire Department you can e-mail Tom Guldner at