What’s in YOUR fire main?

Fire Main ClogThe general alarm rings in the middle of the night; Ten seconds of ear-ringing, nerve-jangling racket designed to raise the crew from a deep slumber.  You stagger from your cabin, struggling into the clothes you’ve set out every night for years anticipating this very moment.  Fellow crew members rush by in the passageway and you hear that dreaded word.  Fire.  There’s a fire onboard and now, you and your mates must confront it!

The wind howls on deck as you muster at the emergency station.  While the assigned personnel don their fireman’s ensembles and breathing apparatus, the on-scene leader directs you to lay out a fire hose.  This hose will be the weapon with which the fire will be attacked.

Minutes later – minutes that have felt like hours – the firefighters are ready to make entry into the space on fire.  The heat and smoke have driven all but those firefighters back and you stand next to the fire hydrant, awaiting the signal to turn on the water.  The signal is given and you rapidly spin the valve open, but nothing happens!  There is no rush of water filling the canvas hose!  There is no weapon with which to fight the swelling fire!

Frantically, the crew removes the hose from the hydrant only to see a small trickle of mud dripping on the deck.  The heat grows on your back while your throat starts to burn from the smoke being inhaled.  And in the back of your mind, the realization grows that you just might be using the lifeboat tonight, as well.

Far fetched?  Do you think this scenario could play out on a modern merchant vessel these days?  Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  On the best funded and manned vessels this exact scenario could occur, if close attention isn’t paid to the maintenance and exercising of the firefighting equipment.

It’s almost taken for granted that when the valve on a fire station hydrant is opened that water will flow out.  The truth is that there are many factors.  Factors such as fire pumps.  Factors such as corrosion that fill the fire main pipes with scale.  Factors such as where the fire pump was last run.  Was it in a muddy river or was it in the clear waters of the open ocean?  And then there is the factor of design.  Perhaps that plugged fire main was predestined long before your ship was launched, when she was just plans on the naval architect’s drafting table.  Dead-ended pipes and low points in the system will forever be the spots where that scale, rust and mud collect.

MSC.1/Circ.1432 (link below) addresses the required maintenance and inspection of firefighting systems onboard and is a great place to start.  Often, your Safety Management System (SMS) will address this circular and SOLAS Chapter II-2 on Fire Protection, Detection and Extinction.  The long and short?  You must maintain your firefighting systems, including those mundane fire hydrants and fire main.  Operating these systems on an annual basis is required.  Operating them more frequently and/or on a rotating basis might be prudent and a good practice.

Why don’t we though?  The number one excuse is probably time pressures.  It’s pretty easy to rig up those normal hoses from the weather decks during monthly fire drills.  It takes a lot longer to run a hose from the lower level of the engine room to discharge over the side.  And what happens when you drain hoses and re-stow gear?  Well, not too many chief engineers are going to be excited about that water you just added to the bilges.  It is a necessary evil, however.  If those stations are never exercised, one can’t be sure that they will operate in an emergency.

Aside from the very personal “save yourself from the fire” aspect of maintaining the firefighting systems, there are the checks and balances of the maritime industry with which to deal.  What do we mean by that?  Port State Control (PSC) is what we mean.  In 2012, the Paris MoU conducted a Concentrated Inspection Campaign (CIC) on SOLAS Chapter II-2 compliance.  Of the vessels detained as the result of the CIC, close to 13 percent were due to fire main and fire pump deficiencies.  Think about that; Better than 1 out of 10 ships could be the ship in the above scenario.

In 2014, the Riyadh MoU launched a similar CIC on fire safety.  Asking yourself the questions PSC inspectors asked as a self-assessment might be enlightening.  At a minimum, it would be a good training aid for your crew and could heighten your fire safety posture.  Mechanical systems operate best when frequently exercised.  It is also an opportunity for the crew to learn about different parts of the firefighting system and vessel.  There are many positive aspects to a proactive maintenance system when it comes to your fire main – not the least of which is water flowing out of the fire hydrant.

Let’s be safe out there.

Additional Reading and Links


Paris MoU : Report of the 2012 Concentrated Inspection Campaign (CIC) on Fire Safety Systems


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Maritime Safety +

Edition 02-2016 is available to download here.

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U.S. Coast Guard 2692 Updated : What to report and when


Had a bad day?  Maybe it wasn’t as bad as the vessel above, but you know you need to give the nearest U.S. Coast Guard OCMI (Officer in Charge of Marine Inspection) or COTP (Captain of the Port) a call.  Where do you start?

Fortunately for those who have not had to make such reports in the past, the USCG has provided guidance.  Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 01-15  lays out the requirements for reportable incidents in accordance with 46 CFR Part 4.  There are very specific reports – both immediately (generally by voice) and then written within 5 days.

Many a company has failed to adequately provide the immediate notification, which can lead to fines.  As the fines are up to $32,500, this is sure to quickly gain the attention of company management.  Vessel personnel can expect rapid modification of procedures for reporting of incidents when fines are levied.

Immediate does not mean instantaneous, however.  It means “as soon as reasonably practicable without delay.”  In other words, take care of what needs to be taken care of to ensure the safety of crew, vessel and other safety concerns before stopping to call the nearest USCG Command Center.  It is highly recommended that the command center is utilized for these notifications instead of contacting a particular inspector, as it provides the opportunity for the fastest response.

In the event that the nearest USCG OCMI or command center cannot be reached by telephone or radio, the National Response Center is certainly an option.  In a pinch, ensuring a message is left or a particular inspector IS contacted, this should fulfill the reporting requirements.  Just remember that you may be judged on how thorough your efforts were to make that initial voice report.

And the 2692 (the written report) has changed rather significantly.  There is a brief video below that describes those changes.  The current 2692, 2692A and 2692B can continue to be used until midnight on December 31st, 2016.  As many in the industry have these saved onboard or on their personal equipment, ensuring an overlap is an excellent idea.  Be aware that the changes are coming!

Having to file a USCG 2692 or make the initial voice reports is not the end of the world.  We may not relish the idea of the Coast Guard or company investigating the incident, but it is part of being a professional mariner.  Trying to sweep an incident under the rug will rarely work out well.  Check out the links below that include the guidance on required reporting both from Sector New Orleans and NVIC 01-15.

Let’s be safe out there.

Additional Reading and Links

USCG : Commercial Vessels : Reportable Marine Casualty and what to do

USCG NVIC (Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular) No. 01-15 : Marine Casualty Reporting Procedures with Associated Standard Interpretations

2692 : Report of Marine Casualty, Commercial Diving Casualty or OCS-related Casualty

2692A : Barge Addendum

2692B : Report of Mandatory Chemical Testing Following a Serious Marine Incident

2692C : Personnel Casualty Addendum

2692D : Involved Persons and Witnesses Addendum


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Maritime Safety +

Edition 01-2016 is available to download here.

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