Fire is considered as one of the most challenging emergencies onboard because, if not properly addressed from the beginning, it entails the risk of total loss of the ship and of injuries/ fatalities. One way to address this emergency is the proper training through efficient and regular drills which ensure that crew members are ready to handle a fire onboard. As such, the industry has incorporated in SOLAS, Chapter 19 which refers to emergency drills, a specific paragraph for fire drills.
The quick response to fire emergencies onboard is of outmost important, taking into consideration that almost half of fire incidents take place while vessel is at sea, as statistics from the Baltic Sea Maritime Incident Response Group Project (2015) revealed; 43.7% at port, 56.3% at sea.
When a fire breaks out onboard, the reality is that ship’s crew is all alone to respond to a fire. Even if the ship is at port, the initial stages of response on board, which are vital to control the fire, should be taken by the crew.
Therefore, properly trained crew members onboard should be the focal point of shipping companies and crew providers in order to prevent fire incidents and enhance safety.
Realizing the importance of the situation, the Port State Control has also shed its focus to firefighting inspections, conducting extended inspections which usually include initiation and monitoring of a fire drill onboard.
However, data analysis from RISK4SEA revealed that the global detentions due to inadequate fire safety in H12019 is at 18.5% of the total (the most common detainable deficiency area).
This actually means that both training of crew members and associated equipment are not in the required level of response, disclosing once again a great gap in crew’s knowledge and competence gap.
For an effective fire fighting response, there are three important factors:
#1 Fire fighting equipment
The safety certificate of each vessel includes all portable and fixed fire fighting equipment of the ship. Crew members must support, check, inspect and maintain the good operational condition of this equipment. Additionally, Classification Societies during surveys and annual inspections have to verify the condition of such equipment. An additional safety barrier and check is the Managing Companies’ inspection procedures through audits, superintendent inspections etc.
#2 Crew training
Crew members have to achieve a minimum level of competence through basic training. This is considered to be a beginner’s stage of fire training as it is included in IMO Model course 1.20, a 15 hours course which incorporates basic definitions and demonstration of equipment. The advanced fire fighting course (IMO model course 2.03) is the next stage of training and refers mainly to officers or those in charge of fire fighting teams. On board familiarization is the next step of crew training as there are additional specific items that crew members should be trained on board each specific ship.
#3 On scene training
This is the most challenging factor to be successfully developed and achieved as it requires step by step training through frequent focused drills. The most important to be achieved though such training is the team spirit and team response during fire emergencies. However, taking into consideration the frequent rotation of crew on board, same ship it is difficult to maintain a satisfactory overall response.
The aforementioned factors are considered to be important and vital for fire fighting. The initial fire fighting training is conducted to crew certification centers, thus, shipping organizations need to focus on the operational status of fire fighting equipment and onboard training. In order to ensure the functionality of such equipment, frequent inspections and campaigns are recommended. The introduction of an efficient training program for fire teams on board by experienced and well trained personnel is also important in order to maintain a sufficient training circle (initial – familiarization – advanced on board) for all crew members.
- In 7 out of 10 cases fires occur when the vessel is on passage at sea.
- Only in one tenth of the cases studied, the fire occurred during shipyard or drydock operations.
- Most fires start in the engine room and are, in 7 out of 10 cases, caused by fuel oil leakage or short circuit of electrical equipment.
- One third of the fires originate from cargo spaces.
Source: The Swedish P&I Club