Delaware River Fire Companies Respond to Ship Fire
Claymont, DE (August 3, 2006), Fire companies from New Castle and DelawareCounties responded to a report of a ship fire last night. The M/VCLIPPER MERMAID was moored at Ocean Terminal in Claymont, De when a fire broke out in the Master’s Cabin on the vessel’s C-Deck. The ship had arrived that morning carrying a cargo of pumice for offload. The master had just finished working on a report when he left his office to send some messages from the bridge. Shortly there after, the Chief Engineer on returning from the Engine Room smelled smoke and noticed smoke emitting from the vent on the Captain’s door to the Cabin. An alarm was immediately sounded and the ship’s crew mustered for their emergency stations. Attempts were made to utilize fire extinguishers without success. A call to New Castle County 911 just before 2100 dispatched the first alarm companies to the scene. The ship was located at the end of the pier at the terminal with cargo cranes blocking fire apparatus from reaching the vessel directly. Apparatus began staging on eh pier as the incident commander from Claymont began his size-up.
The ship’s fire team donned turnout gear and SCBA’s and stretched an attack line from the deck below. Heavy smoke was emanating from the room filling the passages on the C-Deck. The crew was forces to back out. As smoke was observed coming from the superstructure, the IC called for a second alarm to ensure adequate manpower was available due to the excessive heat conditions in the region. In addition, the Wilmington Fire Department Fireboat 7 and Maritime Incident Response Team were dispatched. The Coast Guard dispatched a response boat to the scene from its Philadelphia Station.
Fire crews from Claymont and other Companies boarded the vessel and found the ship’s crew attempting to extinguish the fire with a hose stream through a port window on the starboard side of the vessel. Fearing the crew might drive the fire into the other areas of the vessel; they had the crew shut down the line. A crew from Claymont then entered the superstructure from the starboard external ladderway on the C-Deck. They found heavy smoke conditions throughout the deck. They made there way to the Master’s office and found the abandoned line lying in the doorway with the door open. They were able to enter the office and utilize the line to attack the fire. The office was located only about 20 feet from the exterior door to the deck, so the risk using the ship’s fire system was minimal. Additional back-up crews were staging immediately outside and on the pier.
The fire was rapidly brought under control. Crews then checked for extension on the six sides of the “box.” Access to some areas was delayed due to rooms being locked by crew. The limited duration of the fire and limited fire load in the compartment added to the limited spread of the fire. The fire was placed under control around 2230. The office was located was located on the C-Deck immediately below the bridge and on the starboard side forward which provided two bulkheads being external, further limiting fire spread potential. The room approximately 18 x 12 was joined to the Captain’s bedroom 10 x 12 which showed signs of significant heat and was not far from a potential flashover. Positive Pressure Ventilation was set up to remove the heavy smoke on the deck. Ship’s ventilation was not used due to the Chief Engineer’s concerns over potentially compromised electrical systems running through the overhead in the office.
The Delaware State Fire Marshal’s Office conducted a preliminary investigation. The MIRT provided assistance in working with the ship’s crew to facilitate operations as well as the investigations. The fire marshal’s preliminary determination pointed to an accidental fire involving some of the ship’s electrical equipment. No crew members were injured though the Operation’s Chief had EMS check out the crew as a precaution. One firefighter was treated (see link to news story), but otherwise there were no injuries. The regional heat wave created a dangerous environment to operate from and crews were rotated and sent to rehab to ensure no heat injuries were encountered. The Coast Guard arrived on board to conduct an investigation and the scene was turned over to them.
The rapid response of the fire companies and the creative response tactics prevented a spread of fire which was arguably only minutes away. The crews actions’, likely initially kept the fire in check, but their limited ability to aggressively attack the fire prevented the extinguishment of the fire. Their fire attack from the “window” when driven out from the deck could have had significant impact on the spread of the fire if firefighters hadn’t stopped that operation. The facility has limited water where the ship is moored, so water supply would have presented a considerable challenge if the Claymont Crew had not been able to gain control of the fire utilizing ship’s systems. Options would have been to hand jack a water supply nearly 1000’ down the pier or utilize the fireboat when it arrived. Either option would have delayed attack of the fire allowing it to gain a hold on the C-Deck and the possible spread to exposure decks as well. The multiple companies from 2 States did an outstanding job on fighting the fire and keeping it from spreading.
Do You Have Jurisdiction?
One of the most common questions that arises during a response to a ship incident is the question of who has jurisdiction? The first question that must be answered is in response to the nationality of the vessel, or more commonly "What is its flag?"
The flag is the country where the vessel is registered. It is most commonly determined by looking at the stern of the vessel to see the homeport as well as the flag it is flying. The flag state is the country it is registered in. For example, the M/V Clipper Mermaid that recently had the fire was registered in the Bahamas and the flag state would be the Bahamian Government. Don't be fooled if the vessel is flying the U.S. ensign from it mast. This is a courtesy flag that is flown in the country the vessel is currently in and NOT the flag of the vessel itself. If it is anything other than a U.S. Flag vessel, chances are that you DO NOT have jurisdiction as you would if it were a building or company in your local.
Who does have jurisdiction? A foreign flag vessel is very similar to a foreign Embassy on U.S. soil. There is a certain amount of sovereignty that limits U.S. personal access. That is why the master of the vessel may have the right to refuse or limit your access to his vessel. There are several federal agencies such the Coast Guard, Customs and Boarder Protection and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that have some jurisdiction over the vessel. If the vessel is on fire, however, the agency most critical to your successful operation is the U.S. Coast Guard. A Unified Command (that's one of those components of NIMS ICS that you may have recently encountered) may be critical to the successful outcome of this event. The Coast Guard has the authority to direct the vessel and it's crew to ensure the safety and security of the port. The timely notification of the Coast Guard by fireboard is critical to effecting a rapid response by the Coast Guard. In addition, the Maritime Incident Response Team can provide support during your incident including liaisoning with the ship's crew if desired. Jurisdiction and other important response information is covered in the Marine Fire Fighting Level I and V coures.