Photo By Tom Guldner

By Tom Guldner

Marine companies today recognize their obligation to train their crews in everything that will be needed to do their job. New technologies in propulsion and vessel handling require hours of classroom and practical training. The crews I train on how to safely use the powerful Fi Fi (Firefighting) equipment needed to escort LNG vessels received my classroom seminars and have also spent hours training to put my safety messages to the test during their own open water drills.

Many marine companies have incorporated a safety official or even a safety office for larger companies.

So, you are the Captain of a commercial vessel which is one of just many in your company’s fleet. Corporate has mandated that you train your crews monthly in safety and fighting a fire on your vessel. You have complied and feel that your engineers and deck hands understand all that is required.

But consider this scenario… Last night one of your deck hands suffered a cut requiring stitches and will be out sick for several days. Your company’s Operations Manager assigned you a deck hand from another boat that is temporarily out of service for minor repairs and you get underway to meet your tight schedule.

As you leave the safety of your harbor and reach open water an alarm sounds in the pilot house for a fire in the engine room. You radio down for information but get no response. Just then your engineer enters the pilot house with blackened face and minor burns on his hands. He informs you that a high pressure fuel line ruptured spraying fuel on hot surfaces and ignited in a ball of fire. There is now a major fire in the engine room that is uncontrollable with extinguishers and there are no vessels in the immediate area to pick up your crew.

OK. This is what you trained for. You’ve gone over this with your crew many times and are comfortable that they all know their assigned duties during a fire. Your chief engineer requests permission to activate the fixed CO2 system for the engine room and states this is the only method that he fells may contain the fire. You have just enough CO2 on board to flood the engine room and you know that once activated all the CO2 on hand will be discharged at once.

You get on your intercom and inform all crew members to perform their assigned duties for a CO2 activation. After verifying that everyone is out of the engine room you then give the chief permission to activate the CO2 controls.

You hear the CO2 being discharged and prepare to monitor the ER and perform boundary cooling where needed. As you walk out onto the boat deck to supervise the stretching of fire hoses you see the five by seven foot vent from the engine room is wide open. Plumes of dense black smoke are spewing out under pressure. You also realize that the only CO2 aboard is also bleching out into the atmosphere. You close the door but realize that it is too late. You yell down to the two deck hands and ask, “Whose duty was it to close that door?” Your regular crew member informs you that he closed the vents he was assigned and everyone looks at the “New Guy”. He just says, “No one ever told me I had to close any vents”.

Your Mayday goes out and you have your crew prepare the life boat.

I don’t know if the scenario just mentioned ever actually happened but I have questioned crew members about their duties during a fire and especially prior to a CO2 discharge. Most of the time the ship or boat crew knew what was required but quite a few times I found crew members who had just been assigned or crew members who were working on a new boat who had no idea what their firefighting duties were or where the vents were that needed to be closed.

Is it negligence? No, I don’t believe that it is in most cases. It may just be an oversight on a vessel that normally has a well trained crew.

Anytime a new crew member comes aboard you must insure that he or she is aware of all the duties required of them while on your vessel. This must be done even if the assignment is just for the one day.

If you receive delivery of a new vessel all crew members must be well trained and familiar with all the safety equipment and exits aboard. Set up a detailed Station Bill that outlines each crew member’s duties in detail. Then if a new crew member comes aboard you can show him or her exactly what is expected of them. Assign a responsible crew member to take the new member around the vessel and point out all areas that the new member would be responsible for. Do the same thing regarding all safety and evacuation procedures. All of this must be done before you leave the dock.

Another thing regarding new vessels is to make sure that you have all required safety and operating equipment aboard before you place that vessel into service.


Tom Guldner

Tom Guldner is a retired Lieutenant of the New York City Fire Department’s Marine Division. Who also held a US Coast Guard License as a Ships Master He is a participating member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME) Fishing Vessel Operations and Safety panel and also their Small Working Vessel Operations and Safety panel. Tom is also a Principal Member of the NFPA Technical Committee on Merchant Vessels. His articles on Marine Firefighting have been published both nationally and internationally and can be found on his website

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  • gennady

    Captain Tom scenarios looks not bad, but real life on board of cruise ships looks more complicated. Besides the fires – we need to train crew for other 21 emergency situations (MOB, Collision, Grounding, Flooding, Pollution, Steering gear failure, Electric Power failure, Critical equipment failure, Medical accident, Mass casualties, Helicopter operation, Salvage of own ship, Emergency assistance for other vessel, Rescue from enclose space, Drug and Bomb search, Stowaway situation, Piracy, Hijacking, Hostage Situation, Terrorist situation, Lost person search. Crew suppose to know how to act for any particular situation, remember all codes, main and alternative assembly points and many other things. Also crew needs to be proper trained for passenger’s emergency evacuation and abandon ship. Also crew need to carry out regular onboard works maintenance concern, watch keeping as well. No one in marine industry, who create such a huge number of paper work, never come on board cruise vessel and check out if any seaman with average IQ is capable to remember all this information, either officer or rating. As a result when real emergency happened – just a few, real smart crew members, are capable for some actions (my observations – not more than 30%. All others – just passengers). Experience captain , when Drills, try to select this category of crew and keep them in mind in order to use as a leaders when real emergency happened. I wonder if any training center is capable to give some knowledge to seamen how to act if any of above mention situation happened?
    Regarding fire in engine room: in any ER more than enough means to suppress fire in a very beginning and first crew actions need to be to stop the fire and not to look for phone to call on the bridge or to In most situations It is a matter of a few minutes even seconds to shut down the starting fire and better to use this chance. If no result – than next step.

    • Tom Guldner

      If you do not sound the alarm first and then become overcome then no one will be aware of the fire or your position until the fire is out of control. Sound the alarm first.

      I agree there are many other emergencies aboard. Sone of the 30% of crew members you mentioned should be selected as instructors and as team leaders.

    • Bağımsız Yunanlılar No7

      Extremely ill-paid employees don’t help either. Of course noone talks about that, everybody talk about seminars and training and H&S and blah, blah blah but let’s be honest about it – if the crew is poorly paid and overworked you can’t expect miracles…

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