Some basic shipboard FF info.
If you have access to a major commercial waterway, chances are that at some point in time you will be faced with a fire related emergency on board a marine vessel. This form of firefighting is completely different and usually foreign to most civilian firefighters. Many of our learned "tricks of the trade" and methods of training that are bread and butter at the normal Single Family Dwelling fire, can potentially lead to injury and even death.
Some form of size up acronym has been drilled into every officer, firefighter and recruit from day one. COAL WAS WEALTH, WALLACE WAS HOT are just two. All required and vital knowledge during a emergency incident in a building. While I have no acronym for anything shipboard, there are five vital pieces of information that is needs to be known before any other information.
- What is the nature/class of the fire?
Yes, this information is almost more important to know than where the fire is. This information will affect how you combat the fire no matter where it is located. It will also tell you if you can "slow" down and take that extra breath to organize, or if you have to move with lighting fast speed and assign firefighters to work immediately.
While to many firefighters who are used to shipboard firefighting, the class of fire will give them a general idea of where the fire is. The chances of finding a flammable liquid fire in any space outside of an engineering space or HazMat storage area are slim to none. Fire's involving metals are likely only to be found on ships that have a helicopter on board or are in a shipyard. These are clues to people who are used to these types of fire.
- Where is the fire located and what forms the Box around the space?
To the firefighter not used to ship's, this is all Greek. Knowing how to get to the affected compartment is vital information to the officer. If possible you should ask for a sailor trained in Damage Control from that ship to remain assigned to your fire company. This will allow your company to transit through the ship without getting lost in the maze of pee-ways.
It is also important to know what forms "The Box" around the affected space. Most ships are made of steel or aluminum. These metals transfer heat to unaffected compartments in a very rapid manner. Officers and firefighters should be aware of what is on the other side of the bulkhead. "The Box" consists of six compartments. They are the compartments that are directly forward, aft, to port, to starboard, above and below the space with the fire. The officer and IC must remain aware of what is in those compartments and to ensure fire boundaries are set in those compartments.
- What is the installed firefighting equipment in the space and in "The Box"?
Many compartments with a high risk of fires will have installed firefighting equipment already located within the space. Every engineering space on a ship in the US Navy will be protected by either: Halon 1301, CO2, or the replacement for Halon 1301, Water Mist.
While it goes against the nature of many firefighters, if a space has installed firefighting equipment, slow down. Allow the ships company to activate the installed FF system if they have not already done so. If they have already activated the system, give the agent "soak" time in the space. For example, if the space is protected by Halon 1301 there is no rush to recess the space. Halon will continue to be as effective if you wait two hours or if you wait 15 minutes. If the agent did not activate or is not effective normal firefighting operations with hose lines will have to begin.
- Is there any sensitive equipment inside the space?
There are many systems on board ships that do not react well to firefighting agents. While it might be necessary to use these agents inside the space there are manners of there use to achieve both means. Unlike a structure with many unseen seep holes, it is possible to completely "steam" a fire out. This might be a necessary tactic inside a space containing the electrical switchboard that controls the fire pumps. Examples of sensitive equipment include but is not limited to: main reduction gears that connect engines to the ships propeller shaft, electrical switchboards, ships radar rooms, ammunition lockers, and hazardous material stowage spaces.
- What is the status of Electrical and Mechanical Isolation of the compartment?
It is important that the affected compartment be electrically and mechanically isolated from the rest of the ship. The biggest threat to all personnel on board will be from mixing water and any exposed electric sources. Ships can have electric switchboards, exposed wires, or a myriad of other electric currents where unsuspecting firefighters would never think to look.
Mechanical isolation is just as vital as electrical isolation. An IC will want to ensure that all air sources, both supply and exhaust are secured. Especially if a space is protected by installed FF systems. It is also vital that all flammable liquids or health hazard liquids are not flowing through the affected compartment.
- What size is the fire-main connections?
A ships fire-main system is much like a standpipe. Firefighters bringing any hose on board will need to make sure that the hose is compatible with the ships fire-main. If it is not, adapters will need to be brought on board to facilitate the use of the fire-main.
Incident command will also be slightly different on board a ship. A major change for many civilian firefighters and officers is that they should not be controlling the fire attack. The highest ranking fire officer in most cases will only be in charge of his local personnel. He will also have to understand that he will have to both report to and follow the instructions of the ships commanding officer. The ships CO ultimately is responsible for the safety and survival of their ship.
With this in mind, the first person the IC should find on their arrival is the ships Damage Control Officer (DCO) or Chief Engineer (CHENG). For some companies this person is one in the same, having also a Damage Control Assistant (DCA). This person will have intimate knowledge of that ship. They will most likely have the answer to all five of the above size up questions. He or she will know the what systems are affected and the best routes to and from the scene.
The best place to find the CHENG or DCO will most likely be inside the ships Central Control Station (CCS) or if they have one, the ships Damage Control Central (DCC). Here an IC can find schematics in 3D fashion all compartments on board, what is located in them, and what passes through them.
The civilian IC should also request as many crew members from the CO or CHENG as they can spare. These crewman if trained to basic shipboard damage control/firefighting can be assigned to firefighting companies to better aid transit through the ship.
While wearing our PPE is essential during our bread and butter fires, it is even more so during a shipboard fire. While it is possible to "leave a little skin" during a structure fire and get away with it, it is not possible on board a ship. During our structure fires we will have some manner of ventilation going to remove heat and byproducts from the main fire area. This often is not possible on board a ship. All members should continually check each other to ensure that there is no skin exposed through PPE. Any exposed skin will be painfully burned. Yes I do know this from personal experience.
Ladders are an extreme danger to land based firefighters. Unlike many stairwells in buildings there can be no rhythm or reason to shipboard ladders. One ladder might be nearly vertical and be only 5 steps, while another may not be as steep but be 17 feet long. Another danger is vertical shafts and trunks. Escape trunks out of compartments are vertical and often travel more than one deck. It is important to sound the deck in front of you to ensure there are no open flush deck hatches leading to a vertical escape trunk.
Officers will need to make sure that they are in continual voice or sight contact with their firefighters. Radio's have been found through experience, especially in the US Navy, to be utterly worthless during shipboard fires. Electromagnetic interference and normal "dead" spots exist throughout the ship and will interfere with radio communication. In the US Navy, paper message blanks using symbols is considered the only official and legal form of communication of damage control efforts.
The companies should remain together as much as possible. Many damage control training groups preach to be in constant contact with your hose line. Ships are mazes with interconnecting passageways and fan rooms. Land based firefighters should ensure that they remain together unless actively participating in hose line movement. If moving through the ship, two members should be sent together at all times. If sending two members will only leave one member on the hose line, the entire line should be backed out and reported to DC Central/Incident Command.
Likewise, many of our basic hand tools that we are used to carrying will only be marginally effective on board a ship. The greatest tool that needs to be brought on board is the Thermal Imaging Camera. This tool can be the difference on board a ship while firefighting. It will allow for a greater "visual" range of sight accountability, and more importantly be the best chance for an officer to determine the effectiveness of the firefighting efforts.
Common hand tools can be brought on board but will not be able to used in the normal "trained" manner. The pike pole/roof hook will probably be the best tool for firefighters to carry. It will allow extended reach into the space and create a greater safety margin while sounding a deck to ensure it is intact.
Once again, I find a thread started by you that brings back memories. I was a Boiler Tech 1990-99. I can remember the days of tucking in the dungarees for a non main space fire. When it came the the "Main spaces" it was FFE and that wonderful OBA. My first ship, the Simon Lake AS-33, stationed in Holyloch Scotland, is where firefighting was drilled into me as if something happened in the main space, it was the off watch engineers that were the primary attack team. It made perfect sense as most of the "crew" didn't have a clue as to what to expect "down there in the hole". My last ship, Wasp LHD-1 was a treat as I was one of the few from "the pit" who were on the inport fire party. Such memories...........................
Be safe all!!