Yacht fires challenge firefighters

Nov 7, 2013 by Dorie Cox

As Capt. Dan Corcoran leads the tour single-file through a narrow passageway onboard the 151-foot M/Y Freedom, Davie Fire Capt. Miguel Ferrer stops in the doorway. When his firefighters are suited up for a fire, they may barely fit through this frame. He realizes this is only one of the challenges to fighting a fire on a yacht.


“We come onboard with two hoses and eight guys and we’ll be bottled up here in the door,” Ferrer said. “With an airpack and a hose, you are not turning around in here. … In firefighting, it’s one of the most important things: you don’t put yourself in a situation you can’t back out of.”


About 15 land-based South Florida firefighters met in mid-October in Ft. Lauderdale to learn differences between fighting fires in structures and on yachts. Officers from Ft. Lauderdale Fire-Rescue and Davie Fire-Rescue received advanced classroom training, did onboard burn simulation exercises and took yacht inspection tours for firsthand knowledge to take back to their departments.


The three-day program is the second one organized by American International Group (AIG), Atlass Insurance and Resolve Marine to educate firefighters, marinas and yacht crew how to better prepare for when land-based fire units are called to a yacht fire.

Onboard concerns


After classroom training at Resolve Marine and fire simulation in Resolve Maritime Academy’s Gray Manatee, the group met at Roscioli Yachting Center where they toured the yard and were invited onboard three vessels. Rob McInnis, business development manager at Roscioli, led a follow-up discussion where he and attendees discovered that many of their questions did not have clear answers.

Answers or not, all participants agreed on top concerns in case of fire, the first being personal safety.


“The question will be life safety; that defines our tactics,” Ferrer said. “Fire departments have to assume there are people onboard.”


Firefighters asked how they can know who is on a yacht.


“Marinas don’t monitor people onboard each vessel at all times,” McInnis said. “MCA yachts require 24-hour watch, but not usually the smaller yachts.”


The number of people onboard can change during the night and weekends, he said. Some yachts have a whiteboard for crew to check in and out, but workers may be on and off throughout the day.


“And captains may leave shoes on the dock as decoy, so that doesn’t always indicate crew onboard,” one of the attendees said.


In case of a fire, since there may not be anyone on site to confirm that everyone is safe, a search would be the firefighters’ first course of action. To understand the magnitude of a such a search, Ferrer pulled the fire/safety plan from the red plastic tube strapped on the passarelle on their way onboard and shared it will the team.


“This is important because first thing, we go through the rooms to assess,” Ferrer said.


“The biggest issue is you’ll get lost,” Capt. Corcoran said while First Officer Hadrian Roesch, Deckhand Nick Offringa and Bosun Allen Caldwell showed firefighters the yacht’s extensive layout.


Freedom’s fire/safety plan is kept near the entrance and is also displayed near the engine room. It shows the floorplan marked with life saving equipment, fire suppression systems, extinguishers, fire stations, fuel valves, alarms and much more.


“This is huge,” Corcoran said. “When people walk through they have no clue the magnitude.”


Corcoran said the firefighters can take the copies of plan to take to familiarize themselves with the layout and the 60 safety icons.


This led to a discussion of how difficult it would be for firefighters who board wearing more gear than most crew bring for a season. The base uniform is 48 pounds of suit, hood, boots, helmet, goggles and gloves, Ferrer said. And when the firefighters search for crew, that may put themselves in danger.


“Plus, all of the crew will carry hand tools because we don’t know what we’ll run into,” he said.

Isolating a fire


The second concern is exposure protection, Ferrer said. That means isolating the fire to protect surrounding people and property. This may mean moving nearby yachts, so firefighters asked if there is always someone available to do that.


“If we need someone to move yachts to safety, who’s called?,” an attendee said. “We don’t care who moves the yacht.”


That brings up a good point that we will get an answer to, McInnis said.


Another top concern is how to fight the fire, Ferrer said. Firefighters first looked at possible limitations to getting their trucks near slips, including obstacles such as work trucks, visiting cars and overhangs on the marina sheds.Then they located marina power shut-offs and possible water sources to use.


The firefighters discussed problems in gaining safe access to a burning yacht. They looked at docks, obstructions and how to get onboard. Firefighters boarded a refit surrounded by scaffolding and enclosed in plastic to discuss how to safely cross floating docks with gear and hoses.

The firefighters made mental notes of what they were seeing. Although all questions were not answered during the event, firefighters, crew and marina managers walked away with topics to discuss with their teams. Several participants said they can now clearly visualize challenges and plan how to address them.


“We’re the first in on a fire, so we survey all the questions,” Ferrer said. “Today we learned that when we get to a fire on a yacht, we have to take a second to look at the options.”


What does Ferrer hope captains will learn from this? He pulled out his fireman’s helmet and points to a velcro strip where a plastic name tag stays.


“We have this system with our name and we hand it to one person doing accountability,” Ferrer said.


If yachts have a similar system to confirm there are no people onboard, the firefighters will not have to search, he said.


“I hope the captains learn about accountability.”

Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at dorie@the-triton.com.

To read about the first training session search “Firefighters rely on crew” at www.the-triton.com.


About Dorie Cox

Dorie Cox is a writer with Triton News.

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