Boat shows present a complex concentration of potentially flammable yachts in tight quarters surrounded by hundreds of visitors. It’s a scenario that many firefighters are trained to handle. Miami Beach and West Palm Beach fire departments are two of the crews on the docks during recent Florida shows.
West Palm Beach Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Brent Bloomfield sums up the dangers that his full time crew are watching for during the Palm Beach International Boat Show.
“We have to think of the 10 to 50,000 thousand gallons of diesel on top of the boat construction,” Bloomfield said by phone during the show in March. “Boat foam and fiberglass burn very hot.”
A fire’s heat is measured in British thermal units (BTU). Wood burns at about 8,000 BTU, while a boat fire burns four times as hot, at 30,000 BTU, he said.
Lt. Evan Prentiss, of the Miami Beach Fire Department, has worked with yacht captains on the docks at Yachts Miami Beach (formerly Miami Yacht and Brokerage Show) for the past 11 years.
He monitors carts loaded with barrels of foam and 500-foot-three-inch fire-fighting hoses placed strategically along Collins Avenue. At the first sign of smoke, firefighters can carry the hoses from the street to where they are needed.
“That way, when one of the engines show up, we already have a supply line laid,” Prentiss said.
Foam is another option which works to extinguish a fire by smothering it like a blanket, he said.
Optimally, firefighters would isolate a yacht if it caught on fire. But cutting it away the other boats is not possible for most boats in these tightly packed shows.
Firefighters hope for early detection, Prentiss said. Show docks also have fire extinguishers located throughout.
“And the great thing about these yachts is, they usually have their own fire suppression systems,” Prentiss said. “That helps drastically.”
“Luckily, during the day, there are a thousand people walking around here, so if something does arise, people usually notice it, Prentiss said. “However, at night there are limited people, so we have to be prepared to act fast.”
Prentiss said his firefighters also rely on pony pumps, or jockey pumps, placed throughout the docks.
“They draw the water out and allow us quick access for extinguishment,” he said pointing to the waterway. “It’s funny, once you start noticing them you see them more and more.”
Both departments work with yacht captains right from when they navigate into a show and often take a walk through onboard during the shows.
“We walk the docks, go on the bigger yachts and assess how we would get in the tight areas onboard,” Bloomfield said of the West Palm Beach show.
Many of the parts of a boat burn as carcinogens, so crew carry a breathing apparatus.
” ‘Why?’ people ask, ‘You’re outside?,’ ” Bloomfield said.
“Because, even when fighting a fire on the outside, with a couple of breaths of the smoke you can be in a lot of trouble,” he said is his answer to those questions.
One group of firefighters watch the Palm Beach show from the water. Driver/Engineer Kenny Repass worked with Lt. Alan Figueroa and Firefighter Josh Forbes on opening day from a RIB loaded with gear.
“We cruise around to check the access points and ensure the boat is running good,” Repass said.
His department also has a fire engine and a pickup truck with a foam trailer ready to disperse 500 gallons of foam. The foam is used for fire suppression in class B,C and D fires (flammable liquids, gas and metals).
Many of the fire departments worked with nearby firefighting units and share their incident accident reports.
“They all have our plan which shows the information, like the longest docks,” Bloomfield said. “We calculated all the dock lengths.”
Sows present unique hazards with both people and boats.
“If there were a cardiac arrest or respiratory incident when a person is in the bottom of a boat, it can be hard to get them out,” Bloomfield said. His officers have backboards nearby, but it can be a difficult scenario.
“We have ways, our motto is adapt and overcome,” Bloomfield said. “If it is tight or it is hard to do, we will figure it out and we will solve it the best way.”
And a big difference with boats is that each boat is different, Prentiss said.
“If you had a building or apartment fire, you could usually go to the the place next door, below or above and get a general layout. But a boat is drastically different.”
“Unless there is a life safety issue, we’re probably not going to go onto that boat if it is considered a total loss,” Prentiss said. “At that point our main goal is to keep people safe and try to eliminate property loss to the other yachts, which is going to be difficult to do.”
Dorie Cox is associate editor of Triton Today. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.