Fire and Rescue at Sea

Posted: Monday, February 05, 2007

When a blaze broke out on a boat at Harris Harbor on Friday, the Juneau firefighters knew what to do.

After all, they toured the facility a day earlier as part of training on how to fight fires in a maritime environment.

This week, that training will continue as they study "Marine Fire Fighting for Land-Based Firefighters," a course about how to fight ship fires from the shore and how to fight fires in the facilities that support ships - fueling facilities, warehouses and fisheries.

"The class covers everything, from handling emergencies in our harbors to dealing with ferries, to handling a fire if one breaks out on a cruise ship," said firefighter John George, training officer for the Capital City Fire and Rescue Department.

The firefighters applied their learning immediately Friday when the fire broke out in a boat about 10 a.m. A stove-related blaze spread to a bulkhead inside the boat, according to firefighters.

They quickly were able to determine what firefighting tools they had at the harbor, and doused the blaze in minutes.

Roy Johnston, a firefighter and paramedic with CCFR, said the class helped them attack the fire faster than before.

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"We were able to use what we learned in class," Johnston said. "Without it, we wouldn't have known what we had (with which to fight the fire.)"

Fighting fires on a ship is very different than fighting them on land. Ship fires usually break out in enclosed spaces and happen in an environment full of fuel, combustible liquids and flammable cargo.

"There are a lot of complicated systems on a ship," said Brian Flory, chief mate of the ferry Kennicott.

Also, try sinking a house that's on fire.

"If you put lots of water on a house, it doesn't matter," George said. "If you put a lot of water on a ship, you could sink it."

There have been numerous maritime disasters in or around Juneau. In 1996, five people were killed after a fire started in the laundry room of the cruiseliner Universe Explorer. In addition, about 70 people were injured, many of which were transported by CCFR. In 2000, the motor vessel Columbia caught fire and began to drift. There were no fatalities, but the fire caused an estimated $2 million in damages.

The class is being taught by Gaylen Brevik of Castle Rock Fire Fighting Consulting. The course work goes over everything from shipboard firefighting systems to customs and laws of the sea.

"You learn where to go when you need something," George said.

• Will Morris may be contacted at

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