The Kwajalein Atoll is part of the Marshall Islands and is half-way between Hawaii and Japan in the Pacific Ocean. It is also home of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site at the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll, commonly referred to as the Reagan Test Site. So why would Marine Firefighting Inc. and I be brought all the way out here for a US Army installation?
Kwajalein Island is the southern most and largest island in the necklace of islands known as the Kwalalein Atoll which is part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Being an island and also being a major research site, all of the needed supplies must be brought in by ship. Food, fuel, research equipment, and just about anything needed on the island arrives by ship.
Chief John Finley heads up the US Army Kwajalein Atoll Fire and Emergency Services training division. He realized that, although his Firefighters were well trained in regards to structural firefighting, they were lacking in their knowledge of ships and shipboard firefighting. With the only major port located within his area of responsibility he realized that this was a major problem.
The operation on Kwajalein is professionally managed for the US Army by Chugach Management Services, Inc. who actually contracted for the services of Marine Firefighting Inc. We were to provide training and testing in all areas of shipboard firefighting.
When I first arrived, Chief Finley gave me a tour of the island and especially the port facilities. I found a well run community consisting of a restaurant, a movie theater, recreational facilities, as well as the many scientific and administrative buildings one would expect. However, my first and most alarming observation came when I looked into the water from the bulkhead of the small boat marina. There were over a dozen sharks, most over 8-feet in length circling the area. Being the brave, experienced, scuba-diver that I am, my first reaction was, “I’m not getting into THAT water”! It turned out that these were brown sharks which do not usually pose a real threat. To my mind though, anything with the last name of shark is not in my book of swimming buddies.
The main pier was set up in a “U” shape with each side of the pier designated into sections and marked alphabetically. A container ship arrived periodically at the “F” or Foxtrot pier. Many service vessels and ferries used the other piers when in port. There were several landing craft vessels (reminiscent of John Wayne World War 2 movies) which were used to ferry goods, equipment, and the local Marshallese citizens who worked on Kwajalein but commuted back and forth the nearby island of Ebeye where they lived.
On the other side of the port there ran a long narrow pier that services the fuel dock. Tankers would offload the fuels needed on the island which would then be piped to the many storage tanks located inland.
My first questions dealt with water supplies. While there were adequate fire mains and hydrants throughout the island, none ran out onto the piers. There would be no problem for a vessel located along the landside bulkhead or even for a vessel located on a pier but close to the land. For any vessel located further out on the pier alternative water sources would be needed.
Chief John Finley had his Firefighters trained to use drafting as a primary water source for any vessel at dock a substantial distance from the land and the land based hydrants would be back-up, if possible. This seemed reasonable seeing that many land based fire departments throughout the USA are dependant on drafting. But I always like additional sources of water supply so I kept looking.
I had one full day on Sunday to try to get over my jet lag from my 16-hour flight and also crossing the International Date Line so I used it to scout out additional sources of firefighting water.
As it turned out I didn’t have to look far. One of those landing craft vessels I mentioned before is customarily docked directly across the pier from where the container ship usually off-loads. I noticed two small fire monitors mounted on the roof of the vessel bridge so I thought that there should be a fairly substantial fire pump aboard also. As it turned out there was. The vessels name was the “Great Bridge” and it had a wealth of firefighting resources on board.
In addition to a 1,200 GPM fire pump the vessel also carried:
- 200 gallons of foam concentrate
- 2 fire monitors mounted above pilot house
- 2 gasoline powered portable de-watering pumps. Note: May also be used for firefighting.
- 1 Hi-capacity electric de-watering pump
- 2 Portable smoke ejector fans
- 3 Extensions for Navy Fog nozzles
On Monday morning (which was Sunday evening stateside in the USA) we started the classroom portion of this training program. Over the next five days we covered all aspects of fighting a fire on a vessel in port.
On Thursday we played a game of “Shipboard Firefighting Jeopardy” followed by an exam to see if everyone understood the classroom instructions. Everyone passed with flying colors so we discussed the fire scenarios we would conduct the following day. We originally hoped to be able to use the container ship that visited the Island but it would not arrive until the following week. We next hoped to use the vessel, “Great Bridge” on which I had previously found all the firefighting recourses listed above. That did not work either as the “Great Bridge” would be leaving on the day before our drill for research duties.
The vessel we finally settled on was a Navy tug boat “Mystic”. In the marine environment you have to expect changes to ship availability. We made the best of it and as it turned out, the Mystic was a beautiful old girl.
Built in Louisiana in 1981 and origionally civilian owned, the Mystic has been in-service for the Army in Kwajalein since 1987. At 120ft and 193 tons it provides towing, and vessel docking at this facility. It would now serve as our fire and rescue simulation vessel.
Before the students were set loose on an actual scenario we did a vessel walk-through to point out some of the dangers aboard.
In the photo on the right the students were shown some of the many confined spaces found aboard the Mystic. Confined spaces are comon aboard commercial and military vessels of all sizes. The students were instructed that only confined space trained firefighters should enter these areas. In addition to the dangers associated with a confined space many of these areas aboard vessels also had hazaradous atmosphers. They were either toxic or lacked sufficient oxygen to support life.
Other hatches might leed to a secondary access to areas below deck.
Knowing the layout of vessels which frequent your area can help make a harrowing attack on a below deck fire a bit easier or allow an injured victim to be brought topside much easier.
Seek out knowledable members of the vessels crew to seek advice about finding your way to an area aboard and more importantly finding you way out when things go wrong.
For the scenario we had a fire in the engine room. When members arrived they were informed that one crew member did not report to his “muster station” after the fire alarm sounded and that he was listed as missing.
The apparatus was positioned to draft water at the edge of the pier and hose lines were stretched.
Students suited up in full personal protective gear and prepared to board the vessel. Remember, this is an Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The temperature was about 98˚ F and the humidity was about equal to the temperature. These Firefighters were going to get hot and exhausted very quickly. And this time there was NO FIRE. Hydration and cooling stations must be set up immediately.
The officers conferred with the vessels captain and found that the fire was located in the engine room and that the missing crew member was on the engineering staff. Further questining detirmined that the missing engineer was not on-duty at the time of the alarm so it was decided to search his cabin and then the galley.
After consulting the vessels fire plan the safest and quickest route to the missing crewmembers cabin was found. Members of the search team AND the F.A.S.T. team were both shown this route on the fire plan at the same time and were also informed of alternate means of eggress should the initial entry route became un-usable. It is important that both teams receive the same instructions at the same time. In this way the F.A.S.T. team is already aware of the route taken by the search team and will be ready to start their rescue immediately.
The search team did not go “on-air” until they were about to enter smoke. Their air tanks, while rated at 30 minutes only provide about 20 minutes of air in a stressfull environment. You don’t get a more stressful environment than this.
And remember that 20-minutes must not only get you into the area it must also get you out!
As the search team decended to the level of the crews cabins they felt for doors on the side of the hall. They had been instructed to count the number of doors so they would know when they reached the missing crew members cabin. The number of doors to pass was learned while looking at the fire plan.
The search crew found the missing crewmember on the floor of his cabin unconcious. He would have to be dragged out to an area where he could be put on a stretcher. The rescurers also found out that it is no easy task to drag and carry an unconsious adult in a confined area and still remain low.
While the search was going on other firefighters stretched hose lines on deck to an area where they could access the fire in the engine room.
In the first scenario it was decided to use the CO2 system to control the fire. The Firefighters were told that they should then use their hoselines to perform “boundary cooling” while the CO2 was working. In the second senerio the firefighters were told that the CO2 had been discharged prior to our arrival and that some of the vents to the engineroom had not been closed. Becaues of the open vents all the CO2 was vented to the atmosphere and the engine room fire was still raging. They then instituted a foam attack through the grates in the floor of the room in the rear of the deck house which lead directly to the engine room. In the classroom the students were told that most engine room fires were oil fires and that the oil was usually burning in the bilge or lowest area of the engine room. This is a common area where oil would accumulate. Luckily our firefighting foam would also find its way into that same bilge area. If this method didn’t work then the Firefighters might have to attack the engine room fire directly which is not fun.
Well, as with most scenarios, our fire did go out and the missing crew member was found, rescued, rescussitaed and is now back in the US Army Kwajalein Atoll Fire and Emergency Services training locker. All our Firefighting students were given a well earned rest and cooling off period and we left the post drill critique for the comfort of the air conditioned classroom.
I want to thank Chief John Finley and all the officers and members of the US Army Kwajalein Atoll Fire and Emergency Services. There dedication and desire to learn made my job that much easier.
For more information, go to www.marinefirefighting.com