Although fire fighting training provides basic (basic fire fighting, STCW VI I/1) and advanced (advanced fire fighting STCW VI/3) knowledge to crew members onboard, when such emergency occurs in real life, this knowledge may be proved insufficient. There are many reasons for that; mostly related to the way that the training is being conducted.
Namely, during the aforementioned courses, crew members are subject to classroom lectures and equipment demonstration. On board training requires actual use of equipment during drills or inspections/audits; however most times, the simple connection of hoses and use of equipment is performed during day light, under fair weather conditions and without pressure of time due to absence of real fire development. Depending on responsible superintendent’s approach, the training may become more complex in order to provide additional benefits.
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In such cases, simulation training on firefighting can assist in enhancing performance significantly in a real case scenario. Overall, simulation training is considered as the best way to demonstrate both actions and the risks. Note standing that this type of training has already widespread use within shipping industry, when it comes to navigation, ECR, ballast etc. However, when it comes to fire fighting, the facilities for simulation training are more complex because many of them are constructed to simulate specific parts of a typical ship (accommodation, galley, bridge, tank or hold, open deck etc).
What a fire fighting simulation training involves
Each training compartment is equipped with adequate fire fighting means as per shipboard requirements. The simulation system can produce controlled fires (mainly through controlled gas systems) with differed levels of size.
Trainees start from basic training issues like:
- Equipment deployment (hoses, nozzles, extinguishers)
- Equipment use
- Fire fighter’s uniform use
- Moving with equipment
- Entering or leaving spaces
- Breathing apparatus use
- Basic inspection and maintenance of above equipment
The quick response to small incidents with the use of above equipment is vital. Thus, the training may continue with small and local fires (mostly type A) which each crew member has to fight with the use of extinguisher or hose, in order to understand the proper way of using such equipment. Continuing, a full scale fire in a compartment becomes the most complex part of the training but the most realistic. During such case, real equipment is being used (cooling hoses, fighting hoses, breathing apparatus etc) under the pressure of time; the controlled fire under simulation training may be enlarged depending on trainees’ actions and response time.
Specifically, team leaders have to guide personnel to enter a space with fire and smoke, just like in a real case, and give orders for support and other actions. The crew members involved are under the pressure of time (due to breathing apparatus limitations), in an area with heat, smoke and reduced visibility. In essence, these conditions attempt to simulate atmosphere when a fire breaks out; only at this time, the ‘fire’ is under the supervision of high skilled certified personnel and close monitoring from a control room which can interfere any time it may be necessary. Actually, this is the compelling part of simulated fire fighting training; crew members face a real life emergency but without putting their lives at risk.
But if this is the ideal training for fire fighting why industry hasn’t made big steps towards?
Challenges arise due to the following key reasons:
- Facilities availability: There are not many facilities available for firefighting simulation training, neither adequate trained and certified personnel to support such training to seafarers onboard.
- Team work: This may be the main problem. Taking into consideration the differences in crew contracts and the period on board, the fire fighting team of ship may be changed two or three times during a three months period. Additionally the cost for shipping companies to send a full team for simulation training prior deployment on board is extreme in respect of training and moving cost expenses.
Concluding, simulation training is important for seafarers as they have the opportunity to face the risks of a real fire and witness the possible consequences in case the fire goes out of control. By all means, companies managing vessel should provide adequate fire fighting training to crew members, simulated or not, in order to enhance performance in fire emergencies and save life, cargo, property and environment from disastrous situations.
‘Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand’ – Confucius