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  1. #1
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    Default Shipboard Firefighting

    I know there are some people out there in forum land with experience in this field and i'd like to get their input with some general information, hazards, and tricks for shipboard operations. I'm a student at a maritime academy (go engine!) approaching my first round of real shipboard training in October. As a volunteer ff, the cadet chief mate asked me to be on the fire party during our sea-term this winter. My only problem is that the fire party consists of officers and seniors, not sophomores like myself. I've never had any shipboard training and my first fire party training date is 2 weeks before my sophomore level fire training. I've been reading all of the texts I can get my hands on, but I'd really appreciate some input on the things I really should know and keep in consideration that differentiate shipboard firefighting from structural, land-based. Thanks for your help.


  2. #2
    MembersZone Subscriber MalahatTwo7's Avatar
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    IFSTA has a really good FF book for shipboard firefighters - which of course it is titled I have a copy of that at home.

    As for any special techniques or tricks, mostly those come from Knowing Your Ship, and that is a program that every person who serves at sea should participate in. Dkblram is our resident expert, on the civilian side of the house, my experience is entirely Canadian Navy related, but some basic rules apply no matter what.

    Specifically ISOLATE AND CONFINE - ISOLATE AND CONFINE - ISOLATE AND CONFINE! KNOW YOU SHIP - KNOW YOUR SHIP - KNOW YOUR SHIP and Don't walk OVER the fire compartment... you might become a part of the space before you desire to.

    As for hazards, again Know Your Ship. You will need to become familiar with each space and the items that are inside. I dont necessarily mean to have memorized exactly item by item the room contents, but certainly to know if it is a chemical storage, a machinery space, or is it an office or living space.

    The machinery rooms and cargo areas (assuming a commercial carrier of some sort) will likely pose your greatest challenges because of the narrowness of the walkways in the case of the mach spaces, and with running engines etc and the types of cargo carried.

    The one most important thing I have learned and I use it even with the civil fire service is Listen to the Pipe (Page)... stop and listen:

    What is it?
    Where is it?
    Whats in that compartment/space?
    Where is it in relation to where I am now?
    How do I get there?

    Then take action as per the pipe and your ship SOP's.
    If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

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    Get it up. Get it on. Get it done!

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  3. #3
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    Well, I guess I will come out of "retirement" to respond, since malahat is calling me the "expert." Not sure I'm an expert, just probably have little more experience in shipboard firefighting than most on the forums. First off, SARfreak, I have never actually fought a shipboard fire. I have basic/advanced shipboard firefighting (which you will be doing shortly), and stint on my school's shipboard emergency squad. Which is the other MMA's equvilant to what your going to be on. I also have seen various practical real world way of organizing and running firefighting on.

    From my experience on the E-squad, allot of stuff will be similar to shore side. Interior firefighting will usually have a lack of, or limited ventilation, so use the straight stream on the nozzle to limit steam production so as not to steam bake yourself and/or any victims still in the space. However, keep an eye out for rollover and use quick bursts of the fog side of the nozzle to control it. QUICK being the key word. Always use extreme caution when opening WTD's to a fire space, stay LOW and out of the swing path of the door. Other than that, malahat has some good points, look into the IFSTA book he mentions. but above all, listen, watch and learn from the 1/C and 2/C that you work with and lead your teams. Once you've had the fire training, then you will feel a whole lot better off.

    I have spoken to officers and unlicenced sailors who have fought shipboard fires, including the chief mate or the tanker M/V PATRIOT when she burned summer of 2002. What I've learned from them is that smoke will spread through the house FAST, making many areas untenable without SCBA quickly. There is no time to investigate on your own. IF you hear the general alarm, react like you would to your pager at home. make sure you have your PFD, knife and flashlight. also weather appropriate clothes are smart to grab. Shoes, don't forget your shoes, sounds stupid but it happened on the M/V PATRIOT. basicly assume that once you exit the house, you may not be able to get back in.

    In E/R fires, down and out, but I think they drill you with that at your school.

    One last thing, it's a long swim home. In most cases you will only have one chance to put the fire out. as Malahat said, confine the fire. If your sent to establish fire boundaries, make sure you open up walls, compartments whatever, so you have a complete view of any avenue of fire extension. Fire boundary and reflash watch are the two most important shipboard firefighting tasks. Becuase if you set and maintain fire boundaries, you don't even have to enter the fire compartment, just letit put itself out. Reflash watch, since your all tired, and the structure is already comprimised by the first fire.

    Oh, at my MMA, only the 4/C and 2/C go on cruise, 3/C go cadet shipping. The 4/C form the bulk of the FFing teams, with 2/C in supervisory positions, with the C/M and CC/M incharge. The one year that we borrowed the old PATRIOT CRATE, er I mean STATE, Captain Murphy and his officers weren't sure about having the 4/C do the firefighting. he was pleasantly surpised by their skill.

    if you have any more questions, general or detailed, let me know.
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  4. #4
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    Two manuals which may be helpful (if you have access to them):

    Naval Ships Technical Manual (NSTM) 079- Shipboard Damage Control
    Naval Ships Technical Manual (NSTM) 555- Shipboard Firefighting

  5. #5
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    A little of what I know about shipboard firefighting after 6+ years in the US Navy. Malahat made a good point on the fact that you must know your ship and what it has.

    Location-absolutely critical, as Malahat stated. this will effect how and where you fight the fire. Many of your modern machinary rooms have their own suppression systems, including bilge sprinklers. Specialized cargo ships may have intigrated supression and the likes. Also, most stack fires are contained by an installed suppression system.

    Ventilation-damn near impossible with many ship fires. The US Navy sets a condition called "Hotel". This used various shipboard ventilation systems to pressurize uneffected parts of the ship and setting a negative pressure to aid in smoke/toxic gas removal. It also give a refuge area to start the initial attack and aid in visability. We also used a number of "Red Devil" electric blowers. With smoke tube, you could use them for both positive pressure and/or smoke extraction.

    Extension-with metal construction, a fire will spread through a steel bulkhead almost as fast as spreading vertically. You need to get people in the adjacent spaces to wet down walls and keep this in check. 6 sided fire boundries will be needed. It may not take anything more that a pail of water and a swap to do this, but if you don't, the fire will get ahead of you fast. Now figure if you have to move cargo off the walls what kind of manpower would be needed. One of the worst fires you will encounter on a ship is a fire in the ventilation system. It is everywhere and goes everywhere. Unless the ship has a vent supression system, you will end up trying to run ahead of the fire, punch a hole in the vent, insert nozzle and spray. (4' applicators work well for this along with a piercing nozzle) To do this sucessfully, someone will need to be able to read the shipboard prints, and direct crews that know how to get around the ship quickly to beat the fire. Again, you must know the ship.

    Water-what you put on the fire needs to get off the ship...this can be a critical task, and if done wrong, fatal. For example, bilge sprinkling; you get a nice foam blanket down, the fire is smoothered, all is good. Now if you use a dewatering system and break that foam blanket, you may get an instant reflash, not good.

    Electical Systems-drkblram can help here on the M/V side, but US Navy ships have redundent electrical distribution system, so guarenteeing complete electrical isolation with out shuting down the entire system is impossible.

    Having survived a couple of shipboard fires, including a major main space nightmare, let me add this.
    Proper PPE is paramount, we used single piece turn-out. Great for liquid fuel fires becuase of the minimum number of openings. But terrible for breathing. Which is another point...
    Manpower-lots of it, you will loss people to heat exhaustion very quickly. Which leads to...
    Accountability-crucial unless dead people is a tactical goal.
    Shipboard Training-if you are going to do it, you need to train on them. Everything from proper ventilation, water conservation, self rescue, shipboard space identification, and etc.
    We lost people, but then again, as a squid, you are expendable compared to a ship.
    I hope this helps.
    My posts reflect my views and opinions, not the organization I work for or my IAFF local. Some of which they may not agree. I.A.C.O.J. member
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  6. #6
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    Rum, good points.

    Electrical systems on merchant ships are much simpler than our navy counterparts. There is a main system and an emergency system that can be powered by a stand alone genset. Only ship critical systems and a mininum of one light per space are usually fed by the emergency genset.

    The problem comes up, particularly in engineroom fires, where even though things like the emergency fire pump is being powered by the emergency genset, the wires still go through the E/R and burn through in time. E/R fires can be your worst nightmare. Forunately all E/R's must be equiped with a fixed suppression system. Most commonly CO2, but sometimes Halon. Once the E/R has been evacuated, sealed and the system dumped it SHOULD NOT be entered for any reason for a minimum of 24 hours. longer the better however.

    The USNS SHUGART suffered a major E/R fire this spring while pierside in Kuwait. CO2 system was used. However the space was vented early, sufficient heat was present to reflash the fire, which extended from the E/R through thru deck wire penetrations. emergency fire pump was used to combat the fire and cool bulkheads. Several other USNS (navy owned, civilian manned vessels) vessels sent fire parties who operated in shifts with ship's crew for 48 hours. About 24 hours into the incident, wires burned through as I mentioned above and water supply was lost. a Kuwait City FD pumper, risking their own apparatus laid a supply line ONTO The ship via cargo ramp. In the mean time, bottled water and ice from the galley were used to cool bulkheads. No serious injuries were reported.

    Second example is not so happy. The M/V CAPE HORN (a government owned, civlian crewed vessel also) was enroute from CONUS to Aus. when it suffered a major E/R fire in mid pacific. Again fixed suppression system was activated and the fire extinguished. several hours later the Chief Engineer, Chief Mate and First Engineer entered the E/R with SCBA to investigate. The Chief fell down a ladder way (stair way for all them landlubbers). he woke up with an 10 minute emergency escape BA set on. realizing he was introuble, he exited the E/R via an escape trunk despite his injuries. Once outside he learned the C/M and 1/E were still inside. They both parrished when they became disoriented and ran out of air (sound familiar).

    Gotta get going, more later.
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  7. #7
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    sorry forgot to include this in the last post. Some lessons learned from the above fires.

    For the SHUGART fire, remember that fire can spread through through deck wire runs, just like in highrise firefighting.

    For the CAPE HORN fire, Know your ship, stay together, and have an exit plan if things go wrong.

    For both, DON'T open the sealed E/R too soon.

    In the early 80s there were two E/R fires of simliar cause, both of which involved fatalies. Both involved human error that allowed hot fuel under pressure to shoot into the E/R space from it's piping systems. In one case, one sailor was lost. In the second, three sailors were lost. The lessons from these fires are pretty simple, and should have been drilled in your head as a cadet already. First, always use the proper tool for the task, and no jury rigging of parts. Second should be in an E/R when a fire breaks out, go down and out via escape trunks, do not try to go up to the main entrance to the E/R. If you attempt to fight a E/R fire with handlines rather than fixed systems, enter the E/R via the exit trunks, lead out fire stations in the lower E/R and attack the fire from the bottom. you will NOT be able to push in from the main entrance, it will be 10 times worse than the basement stairs in a basement fire.

    As you've noticed, all these fires have been E/R fires. that is no accident. most major incidents are E/R fires. laundry rooms are probably the next most common. CO2 may be your best technigue, particularly if there are bulk dry powder detergent/bleach stored in the laundry room.
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