Fire on the high seas, off the coast, on a Great Lake, or a powerful river (or wherever), is generally the most significant threat mariners face besides falling overboard and drowning (often because of the failure to wear pfd’s when working on deck). Poorly laid out engine spaces, improper piping systems, hoses with twists or bad bends in them, a lack of appropriate heat and spray shielding, no insulation, the locations of filters and other shortcomings all contribute to a higher-than-necessary fire risk. Starting out with these design shortcomings means you’re starting out at a big disadvantage, and that disadvantage will only grow as the vessel acquires more mileage and those components age. Eliminating them in the most cost-effective way requires giving it serious thought before the steel starts getting cut and the outfitting begins, and to do that you need the right information. Enter the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
On June 11th the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee published safety circular #1321, Guidelines For Measures To Prevent Fires In Engine Rooms And Cargo Pump Rooms. Yes, this was done primarily with large ships in mind. And yes, many towing vessel mariners will automatically and loudly proclaim that “that’ll never work on our boat, that’s ship stuff!”, without even so much as looking at it. But there is very good information contained in it and these should be considered as best-practices that, in many or most cases, can still be used directly or with just a bit of adaptation on tugs, towboats and oilfield service vessels. Don’t dismiss it out-of-hand just because of the source.
It’s understood that some things, such as ventilation systems, can’t be easily fixed or altered without a major and costly undertaking. As mentioned above, the big-ticket items need to be gotten right the first time. But things like hoses, piping and heat shields are far easier to change or add on later if the existing system is found to be a fire risk and, as it happens, these systems are often the culprit when a fire breaks out. So take a look at what you’ve got, compare it to the guidelines in the circular, and see what you might be able to about it with some new hoses, re-routed piping or the addition of a spray shield. It may be much easier than you think, and you’ll sleep much better when you’re far from help.
If things don’t work out design-wise, and a fire occurs, you might want to be prepared for that possibility ahead of time. Marine Firefighting Institute president Tom Guldner is a 33-year FDNY veteran with real marine experience, and he knows his stuff.
As is often the case, many thanks to Dennis Bryant’s Maritime Blog for this important safety scoop…..