Ship Fires

Ship Fires

Extremely Difficult to Handle, Despite the Presence of Unlimited Quantities of Water

Marine Fires Have Their Own Method of Spreading The illustration above shows a fire which occurred at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Several ships were involved and some small craft after taking fire, floated down the river, spreading the blaze to docks and to vessels moored along the way. In such a case the fire department has to follow the fire.

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.

Everything But the Chimney Seems to Burn A ship, when fully involved with fire, makes a smoky blaze. This is largely due to the insufficient supply of air furnished the fire within the body of the vessel. Note in the above illustration that the superstructure, mast, and other finishings are burning vigorously.

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.

There Is Plenty to Burn on the Average Vessel This photograph of the Clyde liner Seneca which burned in December, 1929, at Hoboken, N. J., gives a good idea of the amount of combustible material available on the modern ship. It is not surprising that once fire secures a hold on such a vessel it completes its destruction.Explosions Frequently Start Fires on Vessels Here’s an oil tanker, the Mantilla, in dry dock at Baltimore, Md., which burned following an explosion in 1926. The use of hot rivets, oxyacetylene torches or other sources of ignition are responsible for a great number of explosions in oil tankers. It only requires a source of ignition to set off the mixture of air and petroleum vapors in the double bottoms or tanks of such ships.

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.

Ship Fires


Ship Fires


FIRES on board ship are of several descriptions, the fire in the fore-peak or lazaret, the fire in the engineer’s store room, stoke-hold or bunker, the fire in the passengers’ quarters of large steamers, and the fire in the cargo space, this latter fire may be considered in two or three aspects, whether the cargo hold is full of cargo or not, and what the description of the cargo is, then again very recently the question of oil fuel on fire in the stoke-hold or bunker space.

Fore-peak.—Dealing with them in the order in which they have been mentioned, it is enough to say that a fire in the fore-peak or lazaret usually consists of bosun’s or steward’s stores, is very smoky and not at all accessible, but does not as a rule present any other difficulty.

Engineer’s Store-room, Stoke-hold or Bunker.— The engineer’s store-room usually gives a great deal of trouble. It is generally in the wing in a sort of half deck, and contains quantities of oil, tallow, waste, &c., and other inflammable material. This gives oft a very considerable heat, which rising, causes the iron hand-rails of the ladders, leading down to the floor of the engine room, to become hot enough to burn the hands. The best means of access in this case is by the stoke hold.

Fires in the stoke hold usually are the lagging on the boilers, wood, dust, &c., and are of a compara tively trifling nature, and do not present any great difficulty.

Fires in the coal bunker are not as a rule of a serious nature, but may easily be a long job. A few years ago it used to be necessary to cut with a cold chisel and hammer a hole in the bulk-head where the heat showed greatest, and then shove the longest branch available into the coal. In these days, to cut the bulkhead, oxy-acetylene gas apparatus it used. It is much quicker and easier. But it is not often necessary to cut through the bulk head; instead, a bunker branch is used, which is a 4-inch iron pipe, having a solid tapered end, perforated for a couple of feet or so above the tapfcr, consisting of several lengths of piping screwed together, so that any particular length is available, with two inlets at the side near the top and a heavy iron cap at the top, by means of which the pipe can be driven into the coal in any direction. If the water is allowed to run whilst the pipe is being driven in, the holes do not become stopped up by the fine coal, and a goodly stream of water is directed near the burning mass with quite good results.

Passengers’ Quarters.—Fires in these quarters fre quently give a considerable amount of trouble and occupy a long time, because they may be two or three decks down, and have innumerable passages which have to be traversed before the seat of the fire is reached. Sometimes it is possible to strike the fire through a port hole, but mostly it is a case of working down to it with smoke helmets or breathers. When found the thought usually occurs that a great amount of trouble has been expended for so small a fire. But if these fires are allowed to get away, it is conceivable that a large part of the accommodation will be burnt out. In one steamer, the Cunard Company’s S.S. “Lucania,” the fore-part of the passenger accommodation in this ship was burnt out and the water poured in to extinguish the fire had. the effect of sinking the ship in the dock.

Cargo Space.—The most effective method of dealing with fires in cargo space or holds of the ship, is by battening down the hatch and injecting steam, unless the fire can be located at once and got at, and extinguished with the branch. If the ship if full or nearly so, this is practically the only means available, but if on the other hand it is nearly empty, it may be possible to work the cargo out with the aid of a couple of branches to keep the fire down. In all cases where the cargo is cotton or jute, the steaming process is adopted, and if it fails, flooding the hold is the only alternative. We use two jets, which consist of a 2-inch pipe in sections,” provided for any depth of hold up to 45 feet, which are placed in oppusite corners of the hatch. The nozzle at the hot tom of the pipe is worked by a lever on the deck, and can be elevated or depressed, and turned to the right or left in almost a complete circle, consequently this can strike almost anything that is within its reach; or two opposing horizontal nozzles are placed on the end of the pipe, for use when the hold is nearly empty, or the fire is amongst dunnage, wood. &c. When these have done some work, better results may be obtained where there is not much cargo, by send itig a man down in a smoke helmet and overall suit with a branch. If necessary, and the heat is very great, the man may be kept cool by another branch playing on him, of course, with a moderate force. In all cases of fires in ships’ holds no man is ever sent down without adequate means being taken for his escape in a hurry, as large bodies of smoke and flame are liable to burst out from either cotton or jute at any time, which would endanger the man’s safety. A revolving nozzle is also occasionally useful, lowered through a ventilator when it opens to any hold where there is fire.

Oil Fuel in Stokc-hold or Bunker.—This is best handled with “Firefoam.” Quite recently a quantity of oil floating on water in the bilges of the steamer “Lansdowne,” caught fire. Steam was lacing raised at the time on the boilers, and it is possible that lighted oil dripped into the bilges and set fire to that which was already there. There was a considerable quantity of flame which the detachment of the brig ade, which arrived first, attempted to keep in check with five branches by driving it into a corner. This was quite ineffective, but four 10-gallon “Friefoam” extincteurs extinguished the fire easily and promptly, notwithstanding that there was some waste of the ⅜ foam. The extincteurs had to be carried about the stoke-hold and the nozzle thrust into openings in the plates covering the bilges, and would do equally well had the fire been in the oil bunkers or tanks.

This is a general outline of the methods we have adopted with a reasonable amount of success at ship fires at the docks and in the river here. It is not pretended that better methods do not exist, and I shall be delighted to hear of other means which have been successful in extinguishing any of the class of fires referred to. I may say that the average number of ship fires in Liverpool per annum is forty.