Written by Jen Finn
Fire ignites quick thinking
From U.S. Coast Guard reports
The skipper and two deckhands on an Ilwaco, Wash.-based 58-foot wooden Dungeness crab boat were on a mid-January day trip off Cape Disappointment. One of the deckhands, who doubled as mechanic, didn't like the sounds he heard coming from the engine room around 10 a.m.
The mechanic headed for the engine room. The vessel's hydraulic system, which had been a problem before, had recently been repaired.
Approximately two minutes after he entered the engine room, a hydraulic line burst, spraying hydraulic fluid all over him and on the hot machinery. As flames erupted, he worked his way around the engine room perimeter and felt his way out. As he exited through the galley toward the open deck, he saw smoke already filling the galley and window curtains ablaze.
The vessel's alarms sounded, and from the pilothouse, the skipper saw heavy smoke pouring from the vent cowling on the aft part of the house. He immediately issued a mayday call.
Meanwhile, the other deckhand, who had been working near the stern, saw flames shoot out of the cabin area windows as the mechanic ran out the cabin door with his head on fire; his fellow deckhand removed his coat and beat the flames out. He also removed some of his fellow crewman's hydraulic-fluid-soaked clothing.
The skipper crawled through a starboard side window and pulled himself atop the now smoke-filled pilothouse. The uninjured deckhand informed the skipper of the situation. The skipper had the deckhand launch the life raft, tie it off to the crabber's starboard quarter, and get both crewmen into the raft.
From atop the pilothouse, the skipper opened a port side window. The ventilation cleared out enough smoke for him to climb inside and make one more radio call for help, calling by name other vessels he knew were working the area.
As he reached the aft deck, another fishing boat approached from the starboard side. He hopped into the raft, cut the sea painter, and he and the uninjured deckhand paddled toward the approaching boat. The other fishing boat retrieved all three men around 10:19 a.m.
By 10:38, a local Coast Guard boat arrived and took the crabber's crew to port. There, the injured deckhand, who suffered second- and third-degree burns to his hands, chest and face, was taken to a local hospital. He was later flown to a regional burn center for further treatment and was eventually released.
If a fire starts, especially in the engine room, take the following actions:
Raise the alarm; muster the crew; transmit a mayday; close emergency fuel stops; stop engine room fans and shut dampers; start the emergency fire pump and run out fire hoses, or grab the nearest portable CO2 extinguishers; fight the fire if possible; if the vessel is so equipped, operate the fixed CO2 system; commence boundary cooling to stop the fire from spreading; and seal off the engine room for as long as possible.
Despite how rapidly this emergency unfolded, these fishermen managed to extricate themselves from a very precarious position. Prepare for the unexpected and fish safe.
This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.
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Louisiana crab fishermen and their catch are feeling the pressure of a downturn in the state economy, and a resulting upturn of people entering the fishery.
“It’s a crazy business right now,” said Pete Gerica, the New Orleans fisherman who now serves as president or the Louisiana Crab Task Force, a legislatively-created board of industry voices that makes recommendations to state government.