In Part One of this article we looked at some of the smaller commuter ferries operating around the world. A fire aboard, whether due to terrorism or an engine malfunction, will present quite a challenge to Fire Departments not used to operating on vessels. We left off just as we concluded the classroom session of the Ferry training program and were about to conduct some of the “hands-on” training aboard an actual ferry.
Aboard vessels of any size there will be specific dangers which must be considered at any marine operation. Slips, trips, and falls are obvious issues but the Firefighter must also take into consideration electrical hazards, hazardous materials, vessel movements, and the list goes on. In photo 7 I am alerting the firefighters to the problems involving confined spaces aboard a vessel. The hatch cover shown open is an emergency egress from the engine room. While there was a better entry into the engine room, this was considered the secondary means of egress. The firefighters were informed that the use of this hatch during an emergency would not be possible for them due to the Personal Protective Equipment and the SCBA which must be worn by all Firefighters during a vessel fire. Remember, all the safety rules that you must adhere to at structural fires should also be maintained when operating at a vessel fire.
To re-enforce that eggress issue, I asked one of the crew members to descend through the hatch. (photo 8) As you can see in the photo, it was a tight fit even without PPE and SCBA. Therefore, a firefighter who entered the engine room from the main ER entrance during a fire, would not be able to use the emergency hatch without removing his or her mask. So, this is an area that is not normally occupied and has limited means of egress and that equals a confined space.
As we continued our walk-through I assigned Fire Officers to act as safety personnel and to take positions near any danger areas to protect the firefighters who would later be operating blind during a fire scenario.
Back outside I explained that the scenario would involve an engine room fire and that there was one passenger unaccounted for. The fire and search teams were shown the layout of the vessel with the ferry’s fire plan.(photo 9). If you remember, some of my previous articles dealing with shipboard firefighting, the vessel’s fire plan should be one of the first documents secured at any commercial vessel fire.
While the layout of this ferry was simple, I still wanted the students to recognize the importance of this crucial document. It showed each level of the vessel separately listing all the exits as well as firefighting and fire detection equipment aboard.
With it you could locate the controls to shut down the engine, shut off the fuel and air to the engine, and locate the controls to activate the vessels CO2 system. And one more very important step in reviewing this document is to include and brief members of the F.A.S.T. or R.I.T. teams at the same time you are informing the search and firefighting teams about where they will be operating. These teams will need to know where the search and firefighting teams are located if they are to be sent in to rescue them if the need arises.
Everyone was informed that the scenario, like the actual previous fire, was in the engine room and that attempts to use the CO2 had been unsuccessful. Foam hose lines were stretched to the vessels gangway, masks with black-out facepieces were donned and the exercise was begun. As mentioned, safety personnel were at each doorway and stairway to prevent either the search team or the firefighting team to fall or injure themselves. Everyone was informed that if at any time there was a safety issue which could lead to an injury or damage to the vessel they should immediately inform everyone over the radio that “the drill is canceled.”
Because everyone was now familiar with the layout of the ferry, due both to the pre-scenario walk-through and by studying the fire plan, the hose team knew where to locate the main entrance to the engine room.
Upon locating the ER entrance the team radioed that while there was no flame visible the deck was extremely hot to the touch. Conditions at the entrance of the engine room were continually monitored and the hose line protected the search team as it started to attempt to locate the missing passenger. Starting at the entrance which gave access to the middle of the vessel the search teams split up with some searching to the front or bow and others searching toward the rear or stern of the ferry. (See shipboard terminology in my previous shipboard firefighting articles.)
The search teams were confronted with rows of bench type seats which must be searched from the isle to the bulkhead. This is a very common feature on small commuter ferries (photo 10).
They soon found that this was not a very easy task while wearing their masks and remaining on their hands and knees. Getting all the way in each row was almost impossible without standing up which they were told was not a safe option. They found that by lying flat on their bellies they could better penetrate each row. And by swinging their tool in front of them and sweeping the floor they could reach the last few meters to the wall. But the victim (played by a search manakin) was not on the floor and was in fact lying on the bench seat. Some teams found our victim and others concentrated only on the floor (deck) and failed to reach up and sweep the seat with their arm.
Once the victim was located the hose team was told to open the door to the engine room and flood the small engine room space with foam without descending down the stairs. Aboard these smaller ferries there is a very small engine room and foam will cover the engine room floor rapidly blanketing any flaming liquids located in the bilge.
As in all scenarios the fire went out and the victim was saved. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in real life. This scenario involved a ferry at its dock. That is also not always the case. The subsequent scenario involved the same incident while the ferry was away from the dock. Firefighters would be brought to the ferry by fireboat. To simulate this while the ferry was still safely tied up to the dock we had fireboats brought to the water side of the ferry and the exercise was run again from there. The victim was found and transferred to a fireboat (photo 11) while another fireboat supplied foam to the hose teams attaching the engine room fire.
We live in a most dangerous time and we must always be on guard to detect and report anything out of the ordinary. At no time has it been more important to operate with a constant situational awareness.
Anytime there is a terrorist incident first responders must be alert to any secondary attacks. Quite often at bombing incidents a second device will go off after the first in an attempt to kill or injure the first responders. Police and military should make every attempt to search the area for addition terrorists and or explosive devices before firefighters enter the scene. And even then, limit the number of responders to only those needed.
Until next time. Stay safe out there
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