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As part of the fire team on M/Y Archimedes, Bosun Max Haynes knows how to fight fire onboard the 222-foot (68m) Feadship. But he was surprised to learn some of the challenges land-based firefighters could face if they respond to help, including the critical issue of being able to open the myriad type of doors on a yacht.
Crew from both M/Y Archimedes and S/Y Zenji, a 187-foot Perini Navi, took part in a training program organized by AIG’s Private Client Group in association with Resolve Maritime Academy and Newport Shipyard. The training, led by retired U.S. Navy firefighter Tom Jones, exposed 26 firefighters from the Newport Fire Department to what they might expect when fighting fires onboard yachts and in marinas.
Archimedes Capt. Christopher Walsh feels strongly that firefighters should have the opportunity to come onboard to learn the particularities of fighting fires on yachts. He has hosted them in other ports, including Long Island, N.Y. He said the recent training helped everyone.
“The idea is to cover critical points that most shoreside firefighters don’t understand,” he said by phone from Newport. “It was well worthwhile. I’m not sure who came away benefiting more, them or us.”
Capt. Walsh was not onboard during the event, but Haynes and fellow crew Interior Manager Victoria Dennis and Chief Eng. Victor Mosher led the tour on their boat.
Firefighters learned how to read the fire plan on the gangway and saw the enormous amount of chemicals and fuel onboard. They learned about yacht stability, and how some of the standard land-based methods of fighting fires do not work on boats.
“On land, the classic way to extinguish fire is to ‘surround and drown’,” Capt. Walsh said.
Newport Fire Department Deputy Chief Dave Egan said his team learned a lot in the training.
“Something they emphasized was how fighting the fire with water affected the yacht,” he said. “It could sink or tip over. That’s not something you would think of initially because you’re focused on putting out the fire.”
Firefighters faced other challenges from the start, including how to open the doors.
“That was the most critical, they wouldn’t realize even how to open these doors,” Haynes said of some of the specialized doors onboard. Some doors are activated by discreet buttons, fire doors are activated by sensors, and watertight doors are designed to close, he said.
“The most dangerous part is that watertight doors can close and chop hoses and restrict water flow,” Haynes said. “These big steel doors are designed to close under pressure. That’s something the firefighters wouldn’t come across in a house on land.”
Archimedes has inside privacy doors that open with pressure pads and foot switches.
“That was a good talking point,” Haynes said. “No one knew how to open them. These doors are designed for service, for people entering with a tray in hand.
“If someone is stuck behind a door, firemen could be prevented from saving them because of a simple switch,” Haynes said.
The source of a yacht fire might be hard to find for firefighters not familiar with how yachts are constructed.
“When yachts are built, they have lots of panels that are not structural,” Haynes said. “There are big voids with cables and pipes running through.” And some of the occupying space is smaller than buildings and homes. Plus, yachts have secret hatches, small doors and escape routes.
“They are very restrictive in size,” Haynes said. “With a tank [breathing apparatus] on your back, it would be difficult or even impossible to access.”
“We can usually get in doors without tools, but they said you can’t open some of the doors once they’re closed, and some will be almost impossible to open,” Deputy Chief Egan said. “I’m not a tall guy, but some of the guys might not able to get through some of these accesses.”
Also surprising was the fact that the land-based procedure of turning off power sources upon arrival might not work as planned.
“If they cut the shore power, our generators kick in,” Haynes said. “So, they still have electrical issues. Cutting the power wouldn’t solve the problem.”
Fires are one of the top potential dangers on a boat, and that is why Archimedes is built to high specifications and stocked with firefighting equipment designed for use on yachts. Capt. Walsh said his crew are trained and they shared the special equipment and procedures.
“Especially the yacht’s thermal imaging cameras; they are our No. 1 item of all time,” he said. “We can find people who are down below in the dark and smoke when you can’t see your hand in front of your face.”
That equipment can find hotspots and fire behind panels and in voids, too.
“We have crash pumps, big bilges converted to mobile fire pumps,” Capt. Walsh said. “And we have adapters we can throw into the tender to be a fireboat. Or we can run down the dock with one.”
Haynes learned that land-based fire fighting equipment, like fire hoses, cannot connect to the yacht’s fittings. Firefighters need to be able to park trucks close to get their hoses onboard to fight a fire.
“Their gear wouldn’t fit with ours, 90 percent of it won’t be able to connect,” Haynes said. “Even though our equipment is good, they have to use theirs.”
The Archimedes crew and the Newport firefighters agreed the training helped.
“I hope they do this up and down the coast,” Capt. Walsh said. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
“One hundred percent, we need these classes,” Haynes said. “Even if firefighters don’t get on boats to train, we need to increase awareness about doors, ventilation, all of it.
“We drill and train regularly, but they got a good day,” he said. “I feel more confident. I know what they’ll be looking for.”
“This is good information to know,” Deputy Chief Egan said. “Short of hands-on training, this was very helpful. These are not run of the mill issues. It makes you think.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.