With hundreds of boats on display at the Palm Beach International Boat Show this week, West Palm Beach Fire Rescue works hard to prepare and prevent fires. Battalion Chief Brent Bloomfield has full time crew on the docks.
But there are many components to facing a potential boat fire.
“We have to think of the ten to fifty thousand gallons of diesel on top of the boat construction,” Bloomfield said by phone during the show. “Boat foam and fiberglass burn very hot.” A fire’s heat can be measured in British thermal units (BTU). Wood burns at about 8,000, while a boat fire burns four times as hot, at 30,000 BTU.
“We have been doing walk-throughs since last weekend when the boats began arriving,” Bloomfield said. “We walk the docks, go on the bigger yachts and assess how we would get in the tight areas.”
Many of the parts of a boat burn as carcinogens, so crew wear breathing apparatus in case of fire fighting.
“Why, people ask, “You’re outside?,” he 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.”
“We also have a regional HazMat team in this department. And we have worked with Rybovich,” Bloomfield said. “They have been very good about training, showing us how boats are built and giving us access.”
He said his crew has been onboard and walked around the yachts at the show. And during the show, the crew does walkthroughs while another group of firefighters watch 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.
The department also has a fire engine ready 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).
“We use a top of the market foam which is about $20 grand to fill two totes,” Bloomfield said. “We can use it for fuel leaks for the gas and diesel, the foam suppresses those.”
Incident accident reports have been shared with other firefighting units in the area.
“They all have our plan which shows the information like the longest docks,” Bloomfield said. “We calculated all the dock lengths.”
Most of the department’s officers, about 60, have been through boat fire class, he said.
Aside from fires, the department crew are also paramedics. And boat shows present unique hazards.
“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.
He said the officer carry backboards, but it can be difficult.
“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.”
Dorie Cox is associate editor of Triton Today. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Dorie Cox