Written by Jen Finn
Cool under fire
From U.S. Coast Guard reports
In the middle of a calm August night a 314-foot fish processing vessel swung on its hook with a smaller fishing boat alongside unloading salmon. Suddenly the vessel's general alarm sounded and all hands were roused from their slumber.
Moments before, a crew member making his mid-watch rounds noticed heavy, black smoke coming from an exhaust fan vent on the starboard side of the main deck and immediately told the chief mate. Within seconds the chief mate announced over the intercom, "Fire in the engine room. All hands man your damage control stations immediately!"
Quickly all 145 crew members moved to their assigned emergency stations as the chief mate briefed the skipper. Anticipating that the ship could lose power, the skipper made a mayday call.
The processor's lights soon began flickering until the entire vessel went dark. Firefighting teams found flashlights and put on protective gear. Other crew members manned life raft stations, donning immersion suits in preparation for a possible "abandon ship" order.
The skipper and chief mate assessed the situation, ascertaining why the electricity went out and established internal communications using handheld radios. Meanwhile, the chief engineer supervised the back-up generator's engagement. With power restored, the skipper established communications with the fishing vessel alongside and two other fishing boats that had arrived on scene.
Black smoke kept billowing from the exhaust vents as the fire seemed to strengthen and intensify. The skipper ordered every person who didn't have firefighting-related duties to abandon ship, arranging for the three fishing vessels now alongside to take his crew.
Personal observation and information from fire detection equipment in the vessel's machinery spaces confirmed that the black smoke was coming from the forward generator space. The vessel's fixed CO2 system was activated and the generator room's ventilation system was automatically secured.
Within minutes the smoke subsided. Investigation of the main engine room showed that save for some residual smoke, it was OK. The bulkhead was cool but the generator room doors were warm. The skipper had the team wait 30 minutes, check for flare-ups and then recheck the doors' temperature.
When the firefighting team rechecked, the doors were cool enough to enter. Inspection revealed the CO2 firefighting system had put out the fire.
After checking around the vessel for other damage and posting a reflash watch outside the generator room, the skipper allowed all evacuated crew members to reboard. Once firefighting equipment was put away, everyone met in the galley to debrief the incident.
The crew stood down from the general alarm. Still, the skipper suspended fishing operations and informed the Coast Guard of the mishap. Convinced the vessel was able to proceed, the skipper headed the boat to a nearby port without further incident.
An investigation determined that a piston rod failed on the no. 2 generator, causing its crankcase to explode. Crankcase oil that sprayed forward onto the no. 1 generator's turbocharger ignited, causing the fire.
In this case, this effectively trained crew's near-textbook reaction mirrored firefighting actions many training courses recommend. You may be your best first responder and will most likely be on your own when a fire starts at sea. Training, drills and exercises increase your knowledge and ensure you can handle a fire or any other emergency situation. As always, fish safe!
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