Apparatus, SOC Specialized

Seattle (WA) Fire Department’s Retrofitted Chief Seattle Fireboat

Issue 9 and Volume 20.

The Seattle (WA) Fire Department currently has four fireboats: the 108-foot Leschi, built in 2007 and the primary fireboat on the saltwater side; the smaller Fireboat 1, built in 2006; Fireboat 2, built in 2014 and based on freshwater; and the Chief Seattle, built in 1983, retrofitted, and returned to service in 2013. This article focuses on the retrofitted Chief Seattle, the Seattle Fire Department’s primary fireboat on the freshwater side of the city.

The Chief Seattle is a three-deck 96-foot, six-inch all-aluminum superstructure and hull fireboat retrofitted by Vigor Industrial in Seattle, Washington, under a firm fixed-price contract. Two of the main reasons for the retrofit stemmed from the Chief Seattle’s three main engines not meeting current environmental emissions standards and the need for more interior space for equipment, medical treatment, and command and control. Originally, the Chief Seattle had three engines, shafts, propellers, and rudders. The retrofit removed one engine and its central shaft, propeller, and rudder. The two new MTU engines are “emissions-friendly” and, operating together, produce the same horsepower (hp) as the original three Detroit Diesel engines.

The Chief Seattle is the Seattle (WA) Fire Department's primary fireboat on the freshwater side of the city. Shown is the retrofitted Chief Seattle during sea trials. (Photos courtesy of Vigor Industrial unless otherwise noted.)
The Chief Seattle is the Seattle (WA) Fire Department’s primary fireboat on the freshwater side of the city. Shown is the retrofitted Chief Seattle during sea trials. (Photos courtesy of Vigor Industrial unless otherwise noted.)

Richard Chester, senior engineer with 43 years in the Seattle Fire Department-23 of those years with fireboats-says that the original Chief Seattle had a very good [aluminum] hull that the fire department decided to keep. Seattle firefighters maintain the Seattle fireboats in every case except for those repairs requiring outside contractor assistance. “The vessel was very well maintained over the years,” says Chester. “The hull was in excellent condition. We have been pleased with the hull design and the large platform it provides.” The Seattle Fire Department decided to keep the hull and retrofit it because the budget did not cover the cost of a new 97-foot fireboat. The City of Seattle levy funds and Department of Homeland Security grant funds financed the Chief Seattle’s retrofit.

Retrofitting Chief Seattle

According to Randy Wyllys, Vigor’s project manager for the Chief Seattle retrofit process, Vigor used a crane to lift the boat onto land and performed the stripdown inside a canvas tent. “Vigor removed the superstructure all the way to the mast by cutting off the superstructure at the deck and removing it as one piece,” describes Wyllys. “This included the medical room in the main deck and the pilothouse. Vigor gutted the engine room and removed all three main engines and generators and all the original propulsion systems-the shafts, propellers, and rudders. Vigor removed the center stern tube for the shaft and propeller and plated that over. All the insulation, paint, cabinetry, wiring, analog instruments, ceilings, furniture, joiners, and interiors were gutted and removed. The interior sea chests, engine beds, and hull interiors were removed. When finished, the only original part left was the Chief Seattle’s outer aluminum hull. It took four to six weeks to strip the boat down to the hull.” Despite the boat being constructed in 1983, there were “no toxic materials found in the removal process,” says Wyllys. “Vigor has a history of performing retrofits like this, and the Chief Seattle retrofit was a pretty straightforward extensive refurbishment project for us.”

The new pilothouse and superstructure
The new pilothouse and superstructure.

As for the debris from the stripdown, “Some of the old parts were recycled, some scrapped, [and] some stainless [steel] parts were returned to the customer to reuse [for future fireboats]. Nothing [original] was reused on the vessel. Most of the original materials were disposed of,” says Wyllys.

The retrofit was also used to bring the Chief Seattle up to date with modern times. Vigor replaced the analog dials and instruments with a brand new control system of digital touchscreens that control both the fireboat and the firefighting process. The retrofitted Chief Seattle also received two new bow thrusters as the original Chief Seattle had no bow thrusters.

3 A rear view of the pilothouse.

Wyllys describes the retrofit construction as a simultaneous process for maximum efficiency. With workers working on the interior of the hull, the brand new superstructure and pilothouse were built on the side, and new parts were constructed in covered shops. One-quarter-inch aluminum makes up the superstructure’s new walls, decks, and floors and the windows have 3⁄8-inch-thick glass.

The Results

The new superstructure created wider rooms than the original superstructure. Below deck, the retrofitted Chief Seattle has a day room/galley, an engine room, a tank room/workshop, and a forward thruster/void. Rooms on the main deck consist of a medical treatment and rehabilitation room and an aft equipment storage room. The second deck consists of a pilothouse and a command and control station.

4 The interior of the retrofitted Chief Seattle’s brand new pilothouse

The brand new galley comes with a sink, refrigerator, work desk with computer, and bookcases. The engine room has two MTU 10V2000 1,522-hp diesel engines that produce the same power output as the original three engines. The new MTU engines also comply with Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards. Furthermore, the tank room has increased foam concentrate storage, and the engine room has increased fire pump capacity as the retrofit made the fire pumps separate from the power plant. To accommodate the weight of the new engines, the sea chests’ feature ½-inch wall thicknesses.

A main duty of the Chief Seattle involves medical rescue at sea. “Medical aid/treatment is a very important part of the service that the Seattle Fire Department provides to the citizens of Seattle,” explains Chester. “The city has one of the largest marine communities in the county. Add the ferry system, the number of deep-draft vessels that enter the port, the number of cruise ship dockings each year, and the marine industrial community, and it is easy to see the need for our service and the potential for major medical incidents. Over time, we have experienced incidents involving aircraft accidents, vessel collisions and sinkings, vessel fires, marine industrial accidents, earthquakes, and numerous medical emergencies aboard vessels at sea. The Seattle Fire Department fireboats are staffed with a crew of four: a fire officer, a pilot, an engineer, and a deckhand. All personnel [carry] firefighter/emergency medical technician classifications.”

5 One of the watercraft’s manual hand-controlled bow monitors.

The wider medical treatment room on the main deck has a stretcher in the center, stainless steel cabinets and sink, oxygen bottles, and cabinets with medical supplies. This room has enough space and equipment to accommodate and treat two stretcher patients.

An equipment storage room with a roll-up door sits at the aft end of the superstructure after the medical treatment room and allows the boat crew to store fire extinguishers, fire hoses, suits, and other firefighting-related equipment for both land and sea.

6 Two manual hand-controlled deck monitors are located behind the Pilothouse.

The pilothouse has a console with three stations. Each station has a touchscreen for the steering, propulsion, and firefighting control system. The pilothouse also includes a chart table, settee, and bookcases. Four chairs reside in the pilothouse, but most positions require standing when the crew operates the boat since the retrofitted Chief Seattle does not have an autopilot feature. The retrofit included a new Voyager forward-looking infrared (FLIR) camera for operation at night and in adverse weather. Chester says that the retrofitted fireboat’s communications and navigation consist of a “full suite of Furuno NavNet 3D navigation electronics with Standard Horizon VHF radios and AIS-automatic identification system for locating, identifying, and tracking marine ships by exchanging vessel data.” While the newer Leschi, Fireboat 1, and Fireboat 2 have a chemical, biological, radiation, nuclear, environmental (CBRNE) filtration system, the retrofitted Chief Seattle does not.

Vigor constructed a new cradle, ramp, and winch to house the rescue boat at the stern. A teleoperated landline control box can lower and winch the rescue boat from a safe distance.

7 The retrofitted Chief Seattle’s new engine room features a new firefighting plumbing system. The red pipes are the fire main.

The firefighting systems received new fiberglass or stainless steel replacement parts varying in diameter from four to 14 inches and are a bit larger than the original system, adding more capacity and capability. “Originally the Chief Seattle had three fire pumps, but the new arrangement has two Caterpillar C-18 715-hp engines and four Hale FCG fire pumps-two pumps per engine and separate from the power plant,” says Wyllys. “Each pump can generate 2,500 gallons per minute (gpm) for 10,000 gpm total for the retrofitted Chief Seattle.” It has a manual six-inch bow monitor rated at 3,000 gpm, a six-inch remote control roof monitor on top of the pilothouse rated at 4,000 gpm, two four-inch manual deck monitors rated at 2,000 gpm, and two four-inch underwharf monitors rated at 1,500 gpm.

8 This view of the engine room shows the firefighting system plumbing, engines, and pumps. The red engine (left) is the Caterpillar C-18 fire pump engine, and the white engine (right) is the generator.

In addition to monitors, the retrofitted Chief Seattle can also provide water for land-based fires. “All our fireboats are designed to supply water shoreside,” says Chester. “All have four-inch manifold valves to supply large-diameter hose to support our land-based operations. The Chief Seattle is equipped with 10 four-inch manifold valves.” The entire fireboat received three to four coats of epoxy paint, including the gloss coat, while the deck received an antiskid coating.

Timing and Challenges

The entire retrofit process took 13 months and came within budget. Wyllys estimates that 60 percent of the retrofit cost was on the main deck and below in the hull interior and 40 percent of the cost was from the main deck above to the pilothouse. The retrofit took a good portion of craftspeople from all trades: boilermakers and ship fitters; electricians’ support for the switchboard and electronics; pipefitters and pipe welders; sprinkler systems specialists; painters; carpenters, who did cabinetry, insulation, and soundproofing; and machinists, who worked on the shafting and rudders.

Wyllys notes that the main challenge to the retrofit was juggling the number of people working on sections of the boat to fit the overall schedule. “With a 97-foot fireboat, the engine room is pretty compact,” he explains. “As the level of effort in the engine room was huge, we had to juggle the number of people and amount of machinery scheduled to fit inside that small space.”

9 The firefighting system plumbing in the engine room. The 14-inch stainless steel pipe is the discharge from the fire pump engine.
9 The firefighting system plumbing in the engine room. The 14-inch stainless steel pipe is the discharge from the fire pump engine.

Before delivery to the customer, the retrofitted Chief Seattle went through dock and sea trials. “Tests and trials progressed from firefighting to compressed air to sailing,” says Wyllys. “Every system went through dock trials before sea trials. Dock trials took two weeks and sea trials took two days. The customer was very pleased with the performance. The boat actually performed a couple of knots faster than expected.” Chester concurs, noting that the original Chief Seattle sailed at 20 knots. During trials, the retrofitted Chief Seattle sailed at 22 knots-even with the removal of one engine, shaft, and rudder.

10 The retrofitted Chief Seattle in 2013. [Photo courtesy of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department.]
10 The retrofitted Chief Seattle in 2013. [Photo courtesy of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department.]

The increased freshwater, foam, and fire pumping capacity did not affect the two new engines’ performance in hauling the additional weight. “We were able to increase capabilities without compromising performance,” notes Chester.

The Seattle Fire Department was very happy with the ship’s new speed, handling, and performance. Vigor Industrial and the Seattle Fire Department both expressed how proud they felt over the retrofit program and saw it as a “big success story.”

PETER ONG is a freelance writer who writes short stories, articles, poetry, and reviews.