Extremely Difficult to Handle, Despite the Presence of Unlimited Quantities of Water
SHIP fires are particularly hard to handle, due to three conditions:
First, absence of horizontal openings through which fire department may operate.
Second, presence of large quantities of combustible materials, tightly packed within the body of the ship.
Third, channels for communication of fire throughout ship (where bulkhead or compartment doors are left open).
As at fires on land, the first thing to do at a ship fire is to locate the fire. By locating it is meant determining the point within the ship at which the fire is burning.
The ship’s officers are generally aware of the particular part of the ship or cargo on fire. A very excellent precaution to be taken while the department is locating the fire is to have the ship’s officer get the diagram of the ship. Bulkhead and compartments can be easily located by this diagram as also the particular cargo which is in that part of the vessel.
One or more hatches should be removed on each deck until the compartment on fire is reached.
Ordinarily, special fire extinguishing apparatus provided on board vessels would be employed as the first means of extinguishing the blaze. Carbon dioxide and steam systems are excellent, if they are in operable condition, and if the fire has not gained too much headway.
On the other hand, if the fire has gotten beyond the ship’s fire extinguishing equqmient, it will be necessary to flood the compartment or compartments involved. Before doing this, see that all bulkhead doors are closed as well as deadlights, because the compartment as it fills with water is in all probability liable to cause the ship to list. Should the cargo ports or other ports be left open, the vessel would fill with water and sink. Should the bulkhead doors be left open the water would flow from the compartment on fire and flood the entire length of the ship, thereby doing unnecessary damage to cargo and other parts of the vessel, as well as failing to accomplish its purpose of flooding the burning compartment.
Where it is necessary to flood the hold of the vessel, lines of large diameter hose (3 1/2-inch if it is available) are stretched and operated with open butts, the butts being dropped down into the compartment through hatches and ventilators. Sufficient pump pressure is maintained to keep from ten to twenty pounds at the open butt.
Danger of Listing
A ship in a condition known as “light” or partly discharged will take a very heavy list if water is poured into a compartment, so as to perhaps capsize the vessel. In order to avoid this, lines should be run to the ballast tanks and they should be filled at the same time as the compartment is filled, in order to keep the ship on an even keel. When a ship is heavily loaded, the depth of water under her must he determined by taking soundings, for if she goes down from the water poured in and takes the ground she is bound to take a very short list one way or the other.
As a matter precaution, when operating in a burning vcs>cl, nifii should always ojK’rate in [>airs in charge of an officer. In the dense smoke, always use a guide line which is also used as a signal line. A simple code of signals should l»e made up and practiced. Always leave at least one man with a helmet outside who will take and give signals and watch outside connections and report same to crew ojierating in vessel. All men operating within the vessel in a heavily charged atmosphere must be equipped with self contained breathing apparatus.
There may lie hemp, jute, cotton or chemicals stored in the hold of the ship. The chief officer is responsible for the men. Hemp and jute makes no affect apparently on the men when fighting the fire, but they may drop after getting on the deck. Therefore lie sure of what is in the compartments before you send the men down to put the blaze out. If you can’t go down, can’t send down, cannot find out what is in the hold, the next thing to do is to fill the hold with water.
Before this is done there is one important thing which must lie. rememlxTed : There are usually bulkhead doors between the different compartments of the hold and which are water-tight. See that these doors are tight so that the water will not run away. Also be sure to take the men away when the compartments are filled up. The doors may give way and the damage would be terrific. When down to lock the door you may find you can use a stream. If such is the case, do so as long as you can. The following additional instruction on ship fires, from the New York Fire College Course, is the work of Deputy Chief Edward Worth in charge of the Marine Division, who has had probably more experience in handling ship fires than any other officer in the country.
How to Get Water Into the Hold
There is another way of getting water into the hold besides letting the lines down through the hatches and that is thorugh the ventilators. These ventilators are present in practically every ship and are used for ventilating the spaces below, especially when chemicals are stored there, to prevent dangerous gases from collecting. They are usually situated four or five feet after or before the bulkhead. Smoke from the ventilators shows where the fire is; the chart shows where the ventilator comes from. Put your lines through these openings and turn on the water.
In the case of single bottom on the ship, get engineers to open the seacocks. When there is enough water in the lower hold, close the seacocks. In case of fires in old fishing ships, there is usually no bulkhead, leaving a wide open space from end to end of the ship. In such an instance, there is only one thing to do: stop the fire before it passes you. If necessary, find out how much water the ship will draw and run the ship somewhere where you can sink it.
Once the fire in a ship has gained headway you know it will destroy the cargo and the ship. It is up to the commanding officer to decide what to do. If there arcno bulkheads in the ship, you’ve got to lose either the ship or the ship and cargo. You get the ship and salvage if you sink it, while the boat may be so badly damaged by warping of plates that it will be worthless, if you try to put the fire out with streams.
Another thing to be remembered is this: When a ship is at dock or in the harbor and cargo has been removed for one consignee from the lower deck, the boat is apt to be top heavy and there is danger of it overturning. Use the water ballast tanks for aiding the boat to keep an even keel. Connect lines from the engine to fill up ballast tank.
There are many times when you can get at a fire from both ends. Where fire is in the center and ventilation is in the center, this is possible. Where the ventilation is at either end, there is danger of one company driving the fire against another company.
In any case, get ventilation and the men can work close up to the fire and accomplish effective results.
Occasionally the fire in a vessel can be located by the color of the hull plate. Plates in contact with the fire, upon becoming heated, assume a different hue than plates which are at normal temperature. In this way the location of the lire can sometimes be determined.
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When sinking a vessel which is afire, pick out a site where the river bottom is of silt rather than of rock. A large ship settling on a rocky bottom may so damagt the hull and machinery as to make the vessel worthless from the standpoint of salvage. When a ship is let down on a soft bottom none of such damage may be anticipated, and the ship may be raised again after the fire has been extinguished and properly salvaged.