Apparatus & Equipment, Ultimate Firefighter

Fireboat Use for Water Supply at Structure Fires

Fireboat 343

Article by Anthony Rowett

Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

When the use of fireboats is mentioned, the first image that may come to mind is that of a fireboat lobbing large master streams onto a building fire along the waterfront. Although the production of master streams is a common use for fireboats at structure fires, firefighters must understand all of the capabilities of the fireboat. Fireboats perform many functions, including both firefighting and non-firefighting related operations. Fireboats are commonly used to respond to structural fires along the waterfront, ship and vessel fires (both at the dock as well as while the vessel is underway), medical emergencies that occur in the water, search and rescue operations in the water, as well as any other type of emergency that occurs either in the water or along a waterfront. When operating at a structure fire along a waterfront, firefighters must understand the capability of fireboats to not only apply large flow master streams from the waterfront side of the building but to also support the land-based structural firefighting operations. One of the best ways a fireboat can assist land-based firefighting operations is to provide an additional water supply source for land-based firefighters, using the fireboat’s ability to pump supply hoselines from the body of water that it is in.

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Fireboats possess great pumping capabilities, which allows them to produce multiple master streams that can be applied to the fire from the waterfront side of the building. The pumping capabilities of some fireboats can greatly outperform land-based fire apparatus. The pumping capacities of fireboats vary from fireboat to fireboat, but most possess substantial pumping capabilities that exceed those of land based fire apparatus. The Mobile (AL) Fire Rescue Department’s Fireboat Phoenix is a 35-foot vessel with two 2,000-gpm pump engines with four master stream appliances. The Fire Department of New York’s Marine 1–also known as Fireboat 343–is a 140-foot vessel with a pumping capacity of 50,000 gpm. The differences between these two fireboats is great, but both possess the capability to supplement land-based structural firefighting operations, in addition to supplying master streams from the waterfront side of the fire building.

The great pumping capabilities of fireboats are not limited to producing large flow master streams, but can also be used to provide an additional water supply. When a structure fire occurs along a waterfront, the water supply concerns will typically fall into two categories. One is a lack of a water supply sources, especially common to rural and some suburban fire departments, although this can occur in any setting. In the urban setting, scarcity of water supply sources is not usually a concern, but rather that access to available sources may be limited by obstacles such as railroad tracks. This situation can be found near some ports as a means of transportation for the goods that are imported and exported through the port. The presence of railroad tracks between the water supply source (fire hydrant) and the fire building does not mean that the source cannot be used, it simply complicates the water supply operation. In the rural and suburban setting the lack of water supply sources is commonly just that, a lack of available sources of water.

An additional area where a lack of water supply sources is common is inside some marinas. Many marinas contain very few if any fire hydrants beyond the main entrance. The distance from the main entrance of the marina to the structures on its far side may exceed the amount of supply hose carried by the first-arriving apparatus. While a relay, water shuttle, or drafting operation can be performed to overcome this distance, a fireboat can also be used for water supply, as well for providing exposure protection through the use of the fireboat’s master stream appliances and handlines. Ensuring an adequate water supply is secure to both perform fire suppression and exposure protection is vital at a fire inside a marina. The threat of fire spread to exposures at a fire inside of a marina is great as there will be other buildings nearby, fuel storage, and of course the vessels docked in the marina. If a fire is not contained and is allowed to spread to a vessel that is docked in the marina may contribute to the fire spreading to multiple exposure vessels.  A relay pumping operation is the only land-based water supply operation that can guarantee such capabilities; as the additional apparatus arrive on the scene, the amount go supply hose on scene should meet the needs of the distance from the hydrant to the location of the structure fire inside the marina. This can be time-consuming, however, as such operation are dependent upon the time of arrival of the additional apparatus. A water shuttle operation may not be a possibility as the responding department may not possess the necessary apparatus and equipment. Many urban fire departments do not have water tenders or drop tanks. The ability to perform a drafting operation is dependent on being able to position the apparatus close enough to the water source. Preplanning is essential for marina fires as the first-arriving company needs to know if there are any fire hydrants beyond the marina main entrance, the distance from available fire hydrant/hydrants to the structure that is on fire, and if they will be able to obtain an apparatus position that will allow for drafting. In all three cases, a fireboat can be used to establish a secure water supply or additional water supply. The great pumping capability of fireboats means they can be used to essentially create a water main system from the body of water that they are located in to the apparatus pumping the hoselines or master stream appliances for the land-based operation. In this situation, supply hoselines can be stretched to the fireboat, which in turn then supplies these hoselines with water from its position in the water.

The second water supply concern during waterfront structural firefighting operations is the concern of exceeding the capabilities of the proximate water supply sources. Many waterfront buildings, especially in urban areas, are large and will require a great amount of water flow for effective fire suppression. Fires in these buildings many times will require multiple apparatus to connect to the water supply source to meet the water flow demands. When multiple apparatus connect supply hoselines to fire hydrants, attempt to limit the number of apparatus that connect to hydrants located on the same fire main, when possible. This is again a scenario where a fireboat can reduce the concern of exhausting the water supply sources by pumping supply lines from the fireboat’s position in the water, thereby ensuring that the operational capabilities of the land-based water supply source are not exceeded.

When preplanning structures along a waterfront, the use of a fireboat should be considered. If the fireboat will be used only to supply fire streams from the waterfront side of the building, preplanning will impact the success of the operation much less than when the fireboat will be used for water supply to land-based crews. In the latter instance, firefighters must determine the best positioning along the waterfront for the fireboat to allow firefighters to access and stretch supply hoselines to the vessel. If possible, fireboat should also be positioned to effectively apply fire streams to the fire building, if necessary. Some industrial companies will even install dry hydrants along the waterfront of their property to allow the fireboat to supply water to the industrial site.

The pumping capabilities of many fireboats is great enough to allow the fireboat to both supply large flow master streams when needed as well as simultaneously pump supply lines from its position in the water to the fire scene. As with land-based fire apparatus, firefighters should be able to use all of the capabilities of fireboats. Don’t overlook the ability of fireboats to provide supply hoselines for land-based firefighting operations. All firefighters who operate in a waterfront area must understand the capabilities of fireboats, and fire departments located along a water front that do not possess a fireboat should consider a mutual aid agreement if a neighboring fire department possesses a fireboat .Preplanning is the key to a successful water supply operation using a fireboat.

Anthony Rowett Jr. is a captain with the Mobile (AL) Fire Rescue Department. He was previously a firefighter for the Ogdensburg (NJ) Fire Department. Rowett has an associate’s degree in fire science technology from the County College of Morris in New Jersey and a bachelor’s and master’s degree in fire science and emergency services management, respectively, from Columbia Southern University. He has been published in Fire Engineering and Fire Rescue. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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