Safety at Sea

Extra gear for fighting fires

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

14 March 2019

Extra gear for fighting fires

Fires at sea usually mean that the ship’s crew is alone in fighting the fire and assistance might not be available. Closer to shore and when in port, assistance can be given by local fire brigades and specialist marine firefighting units. These firefighters, although professionals, will be at a disadvantage because they will not know the layout of the vessel. For this reason SOLAS requires that a duplicate set of fire control plans or a booklet containing such plans shall be permanently stored in a prominently marked weathertight enclosure outside the deckhouse for the assistance of shore-side fire-fighting personnel.

Although a ship’s crew will likely tackle a fire with whatever is to hand, there is a requirement for fire-fighting outfits to be carried on all SOLAS ships above 500gt. The exact requirements are contained in the FSS Code. The minimum number of outfits as laid down in SOLAS is two and increases with ship size and type. The outfits should be stored in the fire control room and in places that are easily accessible during emergencies.

In November 2012, SOLAS requirements were amended to require the fire-fighting outfit to include communication devices. For ships constructed on or after 1 July 2014, a minimum of two two-way portable radiotelephone sets for each fire party for fire-fighters’ communication shall be carried on board. The apparatus must be of an explosion-proof type or intrinsically safe. Ships constructed before 1 July 2014 are required to comply not later than the first survey after 1 July 2018 meaning that all ships should be equipped by the second half of this year (2019). The two-way radiotelephone apparatus provided to meet this requirement should be stowed with the fireman’s outfits and be ready for use with them at any time.

A check on the state of charge of the batteries in the units should be included in the routine inspections of fire-fighting equipment. Another amendment that was adopted at the same time covers recharging of breathing apparatus cylinders. The rules now require an onboard means of recharging breathing apparatus cylinders used during drills to be provided or a suitable number of spare cylinders to be carried on board to replace those used.

This is intended to ensure that ships have spare filled air cylinders for use during drills without depleting the availability of cylinders for emergency use. The regulation allows for ships to be fitted with either a means of recharging used cylinders or provided with extra cylinders over and above those carried in accordance with Ch. II-2 Regulation

As well as the fire-fighting outfit, ships are also required to carry a number of emergency escape breathing devices (EEBDs). An EEBD is a supplied-air or oxygen device only used for escape from a compartment that has a hazardous atmosphere. Performance standards require the EEBD to have at least 10 minutes supply of oxygen and should include a hood or full-face piece, as appropriate, to protect the eyes, nose and mouth during escape.

Hoods and face pieces should be constructed of flame-resistant materials and include a clear window for viewing. They are not designed for use for fighting fires or entering oxygen-deficient voids or tanks.

All cargo ships must carry two EEBDs in accommodation spaces and passenger ships must carry at least two EEBDs in main vertical zones. For ships carrying more than 36 passengers, two additional emergency escape sets will be required in each main vertical zone. In some cases, additional devices may be required under flag state rules.