By Alan M. Petrillo
Fire departments that have ocean, lake, or riverfront coverage areas often face different fire protection issues when dealing with fire aboard ships or on piers.
Very often, the apparatus and equipment used to deal with fires in those situations will vary from that found on typical engine and truck companies.
Fireboats and Equipment
William Buck, fire chief for the Port of Houston (TX) Authority (POHA), says his department has to protect 52 miles of ship channel and installations along it. The POHA has three fire stations along the channel, each housing an engine, a hazmat unit, and a MetalCraft 71-foot FireStorm 45-knot jet-drive fireboat.
Each fireboat can flow up to 15,000 gallons per minute (gpm) through a 5,000-gpm Stang gun on top, two Elkhart Brass 1,250-gpm monitors on the bow, two 1,250-gpm Elkhart Brass monitors aft, and from several other outlets. The fireboats also carry 300 gallons of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), extrication equipment such as saws and cutters to gain entry into a ship and its structures, chemical and radiological detection equipment, an onboard breathing air cascade system, and an onboard basic life support (BLS) medical facility.
|1 The Port of Houston (TX) Authority (POHA) has three 71-foot MetalCraft 45-knot jet-drive FireStorm fireboats to protect 52 miles of ship channel. Each fireboat can flow up to 15,000 gpm. [Photos 1-2 courtesy of the Port of Houston (TX) Authority.]|
Nick LoCicero, assistant chief of operations for Tampa (FL) Fire Rescue, says his department has been the leading firefighting agency in the 400-square-mile Tampa bay area for a number of years, and its jurisdiction covers Port Tampa Bay and the Port of Tampa, ranked in the top 10 ports in the country in terms of commodities tonnage handled.
Tampa Fire Rescue runs three primary fireboats: the Patriot, a 69-foot MetalCraft Marine jet-drive boat with a 35-knot top speed; a 30-foot Sea-Ark, powered by three 225-horsepower (hp) Mercury outboard motors that will make 30 knots; and a 27-foot Boston Whaler, powered by two 225-hp Mercury outboards, running at 30 knots. The Patriot has a 13,000-gpm water flow through a remotely operated, roof-mounted 5,000-gpm Stang gun; two 2,000-gpm Elkhart Brass bow monitors; and two 1,250-gpm Elkhart Brass stern monitors. The fireboat carries 500 gallons of foam, has two Hale RME and two FKM (Viton) fire pumps, and has a five-inch Storz discharge for land-side connection.
|2 A POHA fireboat attacks a boat fire at a pier while a land-side engine applies water from the dock side.|
The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) has three primary fireboats, along with other fire and rescue craft. Three Forty Three is a 140-foot-long, 500-ton vessel capable of pumping 50,000 gpm and named in honor of the 343 FDNY members killed on September 11, 2001. Firefighter II is a sister vessel also capable of pumping 50,000 gpm, and each has four 2,000-hp MTU diesel engines that can either power four 12,500-gpm fire pumps or four variable-pitch propellers.
Both fireboats have four different size monitors: one 17,000-gpm, six 5,000-gpm, four 2,000-gpm, and one 1,000-gpm monitor mounted at the basket on the tip of a 50-foot crane. Pumping capacity when the fireboat is stationary is 50,000 gpm when using all four engines. If the boat is maneuvering, two engines can be used to pump up to 25,000 gpm, and two engines would be used to maneuver. The FDNY’s William M. Feehan is a 66-foot fireboat that will pump 8,000 gpm through five 2,000-gpm monitors: one on the roof, two bow monitors, and two midship.
|3 Tampa (FL) Fire Rescue fireboat Patriot, flows water on a large ship fire through a roof-mounted 5,000-gpm Stang gun and two 2,000-gpm Elkhart Brass bow monitors. [Photos 3-4 courtesy of Tampa (FL) Fire Rescue.]|
Seattle (WA) Fire Department fireboat Captain Rick Weiler says his department has to protect waterfront including pleasure craft marinas to container ship terminals, fishing terminals, and business piers. Seattle Fire has the Leschi, a 108-foot, 14-knot fireboat that flows 20,000 gpm and is outfitted with a 55-foot crane with telescoping fire line and ladder, thermal imaging camera, 5,100 gallons of foam, and a medical treatment center; the Chief Seattle 97-foot, 22-knot fireboat that pumps 10,000 gpm; Fireboat 1 and Fireboat 2, two 50-foot fast-attack fireboats that can pump 6,000 gpm each; and Marine One, a land-based rescue truck full of marine firefighting equipment.
The San Diego (CA) Fire-Rescue Department has three fireboats, says Bob Albers of the department’s Lifeguard Services, that cover Mission Bay, where approximately 5,000 pleasure craft are docked in marinas. They are a Hike Metal 43-foot fireboat that pumps 3,000 gpm through two 750-gpm Elkhart Brass remote controlled monitors on the bow and roof and one four-inch, one 2½-inch, and two 1½-inch outlets; a Seaway 35-foot fireboat that flows 1,300 gpm with one 2½-inch monitor and three 2½-inch standpipe connections; and a Seaway 32-foot fireboat with a 2½-inch monitor and one 1½-inch standpipe connection.
|4 Tampa (FL) Fire Rescue also runs a 30-foot Sea-Ark fireboat (shown here) powered by three 225-horsepower (hp) Mercury outboard motors and a 27-foot Boston Whaler powered by two 225-hp Mercury outboards.|
St. Louis (MO) Fire Department Deputy Chief Mike Arras says St. Louis runs the Stan Musial, a 47-foot MetalCraft fireboat with a 7,000-gpm flow capacity and a reserve 27-foot fireboat that flows 500-gpm.
The Chicago (IL) Fire Department’s Marine and Dive Operations are headed by Ron Dorneker, deputy district chief. The department operates the Christopher Wheatley, a 90-foot-long fireboat with a 24-foot beam that can pump 15,000 gpm through a 6,000-gpm center bow turret monitor, two other bow monitors, and a stern monitor on an elevated platform. The fireboat also carries 1,000 gallons of foam and has discharges to feed water to shore companies. Chicago also runs Fireboat 6-8-8, a 32½-foot Lake Assault boat powered by two 225-hp Mercury outboards and that can pump 1,500 gpm from a bow turret and three other discharges.
|5 The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) operates Three Forty Three and Firefighter II, two identical fireboats capable of pumping 50,000 gpm through one 17,000-gpm, six 5,000-gpm, and two 2,000-gpm monitors, as well as a 1,000-gpm monitor mounted at the tip of a 50-foot crane. (Photos 5-6 courtesy of the Fire Department of New York.)|
Commercial Ship Fires
Buck says his firefighters have handled tow boat engine room fires, barge fires, and deck fires on ships in the past year. “How you handle them depends on the situation,” he says. “We had a barge with naphtha onboard when one tank blew up and was on fire. We used a thermal imager to monitor the other tanks and foam to be sure they were cool and let the fire burn. When a marine contractor arrived with more foam, we hit it and knocked the fire out.”
In the United States, any ship that comes into port must have a designated marine fire and salvage contractor on hand in case an incident happens, Buck points out. In case of an incident, the contractor must have an advisor on scene within a certain time frame, and if the fire authority needs foam, the contractor must supply it as well as work with the department to determine the stability of the ship.
|6 The FDNY also operates the William M. Feehan, a 66-foot fireboat that will pump 8,000 gpm and a number of other smaller fireboats and rescue craft.|
Buck notes that often his firefighters have to board a ship on fire. “On a tow boat or tug fire, we will first knock down the fire then get firefighters on board to extinguish hot spots,” he says. “Then we put on our dewatering pumps because we don’t want to sink the vessel in the channel because of all the water we put on it to extinguish the fire.”
LoCicero says his firefighters have had to make entry into ships’ engine rooms to extinguish fires, calling the situations “very hot, with bad visibility and very tight where firefighters are scaling ladders that are nearly vertical in some cases.” He adds, “We also have to be mindful of the water flow we put on a vessel. We want to mitigate the fire as effectively and efficiently as we can, but don’t want to sink the vessel and block the shipping lane.”
|7 The San Diego (CA) Fire-Rescue Department runs three Hike Metal 43-foot fireboats that can pump 3,000 gpm through two 750-gpm remote controlled Elkhart Brass monitors and four hoseline outlets. [Photo courtesy of the San Diego (CA) Fire-Rescue Department.]|
Frank Simpson, battalion chief in Marine Operations for the FDNY, says the department might get a call from the U.S. Coast Guard that a ship is coming in with a fire emergency on board. “We wouldn’t want to bring in a ship that’s on fire. So if need be, we will board the ship and extinguish the fire,” Simpson says, “or if the situation warrants, bring it to a safe concrete dock area and deal with it from the land side.”
Michael Buckheit, chief of Marine Operations for FDNY, notes that all FDNY firefighters assigned to marine operations are trained to use alcohol-resistant AFFF and portable Purple K extinguishing agents and also are trained to marine hazmat operations. “Our four fireboats are all chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives certified,” Buckheit points out, “and eight of our vessels, including the fireboats, are New York State certified as ambulances.”
|8 The Chicago (IL) Fire Department’s Marine and Dive Operations operates the Christopher Wheatley, a 90-foot fireboat that pumps 15,000 gpm through a 6,000-gpm center bow turret monitor, two other bow monitors, and an elevated stern monitor. [Photo courtesy of Chicago (IL) Fire Department.]|
Weiler adds that in sizing up a ship fire, “if the fire is on the main deck or above, it’s similar to a structure fire, but if the fire is below deck, then it’s a whole other scenario. Think of a ship as a high-rise building tilted on its side. It’s very manpower-intensive to fight a fire below decks.”
Weiler notes that with a below-deck fire, Seattle slows the process down like at a hazmat incident. “You have to be very careful how you use a handline and where your access points are,” he says. “You need one firefighter at every pinch point below decks, so you might have one fire company on a handline to maneuver it or two or three companies if the fire is two or three decks down.”
|9 Fireboat 6-8-8 is the Chicago (IL) Fire Department’s 32½-foot Lake Assault fireboat powered by twin Mercury 225-hp outboards that can pump 1,500 gpm from a bow turret and three other discharges. [Photo courtesy of the Chicago (IL) Fire Department.]|
On a container ship sailing from Hawaii, Seattle’s firefighters used the Leschi’s CO2 system to put out a fire. “The ship had used half of its own CO2 to hold the fire and backed it up with its water sprinkler system, which kept the fire under control until they got here,” Weiler observes. “We used a Jacob’s ladder to access the vessel along with two Coast Guard members to pinpoint the hottest area of the hold. We used a magnetic (MAG) drill to make a hole in the top of the hold to drop in sensing equipment and finally used that same one-inch hole to pump in CO2 from our truck. We then were able to pull out containers and set them down in a safe area where we could use handlines on them if they caught fire.”
Arras says tow boats and barges are the biggest hazards his department faces. “We’re also concerned about riverboat and cruise boat fires because tourism traffic has been increasing on the Mississippi River,” Arras says. “There are a lot of methanol and other hazardous materials being transported by barge, and the standard operating procedure is to get a barge out of the channel and push it to a safe spot at the shore where we can approach with the fireboat and apply water or foam.”
Pleasure Boat and Marina Fires
Anthony Zens, captain of station 23/B at San Diego (CA) Fire Rescue, says that yachts and fishing boats have a lot of accelerants in them or are made out of them. “Fiberglass and plastics are very light, flammable materials that can go up quickly,” Zens points out. “Fighting fires in marinas and on pleasure boats means facing the issue of falling into the water with all your fire gear on, which would only give you seconds to get out or go down to the bottom.”
Depending on the pier layout of the marina, Zens says San Diego will usually do a pier lay, pulling a 2½-inch hose off an engine and stretching it as far as possible and then attaching a wye for two 1¾-inch hoses, an attack line, and a backup line. “Occasionally, we’ll make an interior attack on a yacht or fishing boat, but because they get going so quickly we have to decide what’s burning and the makeup of the boat.”
|10 The Seattle (WA) Fire Department runs the Leschi,a 108-foot fireboat that flows 20,000 gpm, has a 55-foot telescoping crane with a ladder and fire line, and 5,100 gallons of foam. [Photos 10-11 courtesy of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department.]|
Dorneker says the boat fires his department typically responds to are on 30- to 50-foot boats. “We had a sailboat on fire in Belmont Harbor (marina) that jumped ship and traveled to other boats,” Dorneker points out. “We lost a handful of boats but were able to stop it quickly by fast action from Fireboat 6-8-8 and land companies.” At Chicago’s 31st Street Marina, Dorneker notes that there are 900-foot-long docks, which require a quick knockdown by a fireboat, followed by the boat leading out lines for land companies.
Dorneker says Chicago recently responded to a boat fire where someone was still aboard. “It is much like a structure fire call, but everyone wears a personal flotation device (PFD) under their turnouts,” he says. “We had to rescue the person first and then extinguish the fire, much like we would do for a land structure fire.” Every fire apparatus in Chicago carries PFDs, he adds.
|11 The Chief Seattle is the Seattle (WA) Fire Department’s 97-foot fireboat that pumps 10,000 gpm.|
Pier and Dock Fires
All the piers and facilities in the Houston ship channel have preplans, says Buck. “Two fireboats automatically go to every ship fire, even at a pier, when a land-side chief responds with other apparatus,” he points out. “We set up a unified command with our chief officer, a U.S. Coast Guard representative, a Houston (TX) Fire Department chief, a facility representative, and the captain of the ship.”
Buck notes that there are many variables to a land-side ship-dock fire, but gaining access to the vessel from the apparatus is usually the problem. “Some docks have gangways that extend out over the water that make it difficult for fire apparatus to get to the ship,” he says. “If we can get close, we usually use two ladder trucks-one for hoses and the second for a means of egress to the ship. We don’t use the ship’s gangway.”
Patriot fireboat to extinguish the fire.”
Weiler says that with some pier fires that can’t be reached by a fireboat’s under-deck monitors, firefighters in personal flotation gear and self-contained breathing apparatus have staffed a workboat or rigid-hull inflatable boat to drag a handline under a pier and use a high-pressure pump and hard suction to extinguish fires.
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist, the author of three novels and five nonfiction books, and a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.