Maritime terrorism on ferries and the land-based firefighter – Part 1
When we think about terrorism we usually associate it with gunfire and a military or police response. It is not considered a Firefighters role to get engaged in a gunfight or to de-fuse an explosive device. I have no problem with that. I do not want to go running into a gun fight however, we as firefighters may have to deal with the aftermath of one of these terrorist attacks.
We need only look at the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. Firefighters were called in after the first plane attacked and 343 of them gave up their lives that day and continue to die because of the toxins they breathed in during the search and rescue and recovery operations that followed.
But what about terrorism in the marine environment? It is more than just a possibility. It has already occurred. From ships being hijacked to suicide boats ramming into ships like in the attack on the U.S. Navy Vessel USS Cole. (photo 1)
Numerous sources indicate that we may well have to deal with this eventuality at some time in the future and that ferries may be a prime target. “Ferries are at the biggest risk for a terror attack out of the state’s transportation network because they transport large volumes of people, and have limited security and limited means of escape, according to reports from the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.” Many law enforcement organizations are taking this possibility very seriously and are training for boarding one of these ferries even when underway. (US Coast Guard photo 2)
Again, I am a Firefighter, and I’m writing this article for Firefighters. We will not be involved in an armed attack on terrorists who have taken over a vessel or who are attempting to blow up a vessel either by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest aboard a ferry or via an explosive laden boat ramming a vessel.
While we will not be engaged in the opening salvo of one of these scenarios we may be called in to extinguish any fires and treat any injured. Once the shooting or danger from explosives has been removed Firefighters may either be brought out to a ferry or excursion boat on fire or board that vessel when it is brought to a land-based facility.
If it is a small commuter ferry transporting 20-50 passengers, like the New York City “New York Waterway” ferry (photo 3), then the Fire Department’s operation may be manageable with the limited marine fire response of many waterfront Fire Departments. It may require only the water supply available from small municipal fire boats. Often, the limited number of injured can also be accommodated with the smaller municipal response vessels and other relatively small ferries if available.
I use the term “relatively” because there are other types of ferries which could be targets of a terrorist attack. These larger ferries, containing hundreds of passengers as well as cars and trucks, are transiting coastal communities all over the world from the large ferries crossing the English Channel, North Sea, and Mediterranean to the Washington State Ferries (photo 4) and the British Columbian in North America.
Operating at fires on these much larger vessels should be considered “Shipboard Firefighting” and would involve extensive training for any “Land-Based Firefighter. My previous articles deal with this issue and would also be covered in my 4-5 day “Shipboard Firefighting” training program.
For this article, I want to address the fires and emergencies on the smaller vessels. Even if due to some type of terrorist attack these fires and incidents must be responded to, after the initial terrorist danger has been removed or neutralized.
My training program entitled “Small Ferry and Excursion Boat Fires and Emergencies” goes into detail as to how Firefighters would handle these relatively smaller incidents. I have trained many departments to respond to and operate at these incidents. In just one or two days the Firefighters are trained about how to get to the vessel in distress and what to do when they finally arrive. I mentioned the use of other small ferries to supplement the Fire Department’s limited marine resources. In fact, if a ferry company is running numerous ferries of the same design, then the use of another ferry to remove passengers might be your first choice, if available.
When conducting training for fires on these smaller vessels I often use photos of the actual vessel that operates in that Fire Department’s response area. Also, whenever possible, I attempt to conduct a familiarization walk-through and/or an actual fire and evacuation scenario on one of those vessels.
I was asked by the owners of the Fire Island Ferry in New York State, USA to conduct joint training for not only their own crew members but also the local Fire Department where the boat docked. One of the ferries had suffered a recent fire and the owner realized that coordination of training was lacking.
A classroom session was conducted where the features of the ferry and an analysis of the previous fire was conducted. This fire was caused by a leaking fuel line spraying flammable fuel on the engines hot surfaces. (photo 5) (A very common cause for boat and ship fires of all sizes)
During the fire in the engine room the CO2 system was discharged but for several reasons it was unable to suppress the fire.
The class went over the operation of this very valuable firefighting system. If operated correctly it may allow you to control and extinguish an engine room fire without having to enter this cramped and dangerous area. (Photo 5). Many tactics such as access, water supply, foam, stability, communications, etc. were also covered in the classroom.
When all classroom sessions were completed the students assembled at the ferry’s dock. I conducted a safety orientation prior to boarding so that everyone was informed of the dangers aboard. (photo 6).
We would first do a familiarization walk-through of the vessel pointing out the features that were covered in the classroom sessions.
In Part 2 of this article we will look at some of the dangers encountered in the familiarization walk-through of this ferry and the safety measures taken during the fire scenarios conducted. See you next time.
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