If you want to rate onboard incidents fire would be my number one in terms of not only what can happen but how fast it happen as well. A fire can go from ignition to catastrophic in minutes or even seconds in the right environment.
As fire is such a big subject I’ll deal with specific fires over the next few weeks to ensure we cover as many aspects of dealing with fires as possible in the upcoming newsletters.
Any fire onboard represents a dangerous situation that must be dealt with immediately and efficiently. Every second wasted in not containing a fire has the potential to led to a catastrophic result including major damage to or loss of vessel and serious injury or loss of life.
When we talk to most people about onboard fires they immediately think of engine room fires but…it’s not the only place where fires occur.
Other areas where fires occur include but are not limited to…
- other machinery rooms apart from the engine room
- storage rooms or compartments
- passenger areas
- accommodation areas
- smoking areas
- garbage bins
- electrical systems
- and many other areas
In fact, the one area where we see many fires is in the galley. Someone is cooking and they get called away to help and leave the galley unattended. The result is a fire develops and bingo: you’ve got a major problem!
When dealing with a fire you need to consider a number of factors, these include…
- where the fire is: e.g., engine room, galley, etc…
- the fuel source: e.g., oil, gas, electrical, fuel, etc…
- what equipment is available for dealing with the particular fire: i.e., will a portable fire extinguisher do the job, is there a fire suppression system fitted, fire blanket, etc.
- what is the state of the fire: i.e., is it a small fire or has it developed into a major fire;
- what is the access: is it safe to enter the space?
- what back-up appliances are there: extra fire extinguishers, fire hose, deck hose, etc…
Once you’ve answered those questions you then have to refer to your emergency plan (more on that in latter issues) to see who has been assigned what duties.
On ships specific crew are assigned to set tasks but on domestic commercial vessels (DCV) this is usually not the case. In so many sectors crew are a transient bunch and as such vessel specific training becomes an issue.
While all crew members should be able to deal with fires and other emergency situations onboard DCV’s our onboard training sessions have clearly identified this is not the case.
In recent training sessions many crew members could not identify the different types of fire extinguishers and worse still didn’t know where they were onboard. Just to make matters worse many had trouble removing the extinguishers from the bracket!
This in itself is a recipe for disaster so my question is how well trained are your crew members?
Being able to identify what type of fire it is (e.g., electrical, oil, combustible liquids, etc.) is the first step but from there it’s critical to know what fire extinguisher to use for specific fire types. Not all fire extinguishers are suitable for all fires.
For example, a CO2 extinguisher is used for electrical fires but has limited effect on other types of fires. I’ve provided a table below as a guide for what portable fire extinguisher to use for what type of fire.
Most commercial vessels are fitted with heat/smoke detectors to warn of fires in the engine room and vessels carrying berthed passengers have them also, but I’ve known these to fail!
No matter where the fire is or how small it is the person seeing it needs to raise the alarm. For crew members they need to take immediate action to extinguish or at least control the fire until other crew members arrives.
No matter the size of your vessel or its operations you first need to decide who is going to do what but that will depend on the number of crew and size of vessel.
No matter if you operate a fishing vessel with only 2 crew or a passenger vessel with deckhands and hospitality based staff it’s critical that all know how to identify and deal with different types of fires.
No matter how big, or small your vessel there are a number of generic steps for fires that should be followed, these are:
- notify the Master (if alarms have not gone off)
- emergency message (if necessary)
- notify the engineer (if one is onboard)
- quickly assess the situation is it safe to enter the space or not
- if safe and fire is controllable the use of portable fire extinguishers
- boundary cooling
- continual monitoring
- emergency message
By following these basic steps, you have the greatest potential to avoid a disaster like the vessel below!
Number one recommendation is to ensure your crew know:
- how to identify different types of fires
- the location of all fire extinguishers
- the different types of fire extinguishers and their uses
- how to use a fire extinguisher
- how to use a fire blanket
- the risks involved in fighting fires onboard
If all your crew are up to speed with the above then your chances of surviving a fire are greatly improved.
Ensure you undertake regular training (drills) that include different types and locations of fires, e.g., the galley, engine room, accommodation, etc.
To do this you must have procedures in place and your fire procedures, like all others must detail what YOU do on your vessel so ensure you list all the steps you would take in the event of a fire on your vessel.
Need help with your fire procedures? Feel free to contact us for advice or assistance as you need to get it right!
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