5 Ways We Are Updating Our Thinking On Fire Fighting

Earlier in the year, I wrote an article on a new small, but very effective, fire extinguisher from Maus.

The article itself did not move the needle of fire safety on boats, except to bring attention to a new and interesting product.

But the ensuing comment stream was fascinating and included participation from a chemical engineer, a fire expert and a professional fire fighter, that, together with discussion from other members, I learned a lot from.

And based on that learning, Phyllis and I made several changes to the fire fighting gear we carry and our thinking on how we would use it. That's what this article is about.

But before I get into that, I need to make a few things clear:

  • I'm not an expert on fire fighting at sea.
  • I'm not suggesting that anyone else adopt our approach.
  • I'm not recommending or endorsing any of the gear we have bought—simply not qualified to do so.
My only intent is to share our approach in the hope that it will inspire others to listen to experts, do research, and come up with a fire fighting system that makes the most sense to them.

With that out of the way, here are four things we changed recently, and one change we made a couple of years ago:

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steve holloway

Okay someone’s going to have to ask, you DON’T use WD40???!!!

steve holloway

Interesting. Never found anyone in the UK branch out from WD40, it’ld be like polishing the brass with anything other than Brasso… unthinkable! We’re simple souls!
I did Google Boeshield though & it is available here, 5 x the price of WD, worth that?
Steve

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
This is an excellent piece of analysis of “real world” cruising preparations for a potentially catastrophic event most of us wish to have no experience with and too few have given much thought beyond covering CG requirements. “Real world” is to acknowledge that many would hesitate (and fires are no time to hesitate) to shoot off a dry chemical fire extinguisher because of the mess that will occur and thank you for providing an alternative. Over the years, I have read a fair number of articles on fire and, although I think that some have mentioned propane tank storage, none have mentioned the small bombs of everyday life such as the cans such as WD40. As well, I believe it to be a wise analysis for you to suggest (in essence and similar to reefing) that, in a fire situation, the first moment you think about preparing to abandon ship is when you should start to move in that direction. Think how quickly a scenario could change if the boat spun around while fighting took place and turned the dodger into a wind funnel. And all probably goes double for plastic boats.
It seems to me an example of where manufacturer’s place their priorities that smoke detectors are not included in any boats that I am aware of (same with high water alarms in the bilges). Thanks for the suggestion of a solid piece of kit for both home and boat. Most of the detectors I have used over the years have lasted well and done the job, but definitely feel like they were designed to a price point.
Another “real world” consideration is that (I believe) fire blankets are required kit in much of Europe and may be also required on some insurance plans. Luckily, they can be bought and installed to cover regs for not much effort or money and may prove useful sometime.
My best, Dick Stevenson s/v Alchemy
An anecdote and how things can happen inadvertently. An acquaintance was replacing the plastic on his hatches and stretched plastic sheeting over the hatch when he left for the night. It sprinkled rain over the night and next day was sunny. A marina employee noticed smoke coming out of his boat in the afternoon: no fire, but there was a scorch mark going across his cushions and floorboards from the “lens” of the water sitting and stretching the plastic and focusing the sun perfectly on his below-decks area. The cushions were ruined and the floorboards had lost a mm of wood or so.
It should be noted that the insurance surveyor felt that the only reason the cushions did not ignite was because the boat was European (a Halberg-Rassey) and that EU regs require fire-proof (maybe fire-resistant) foam and went on to say that an American manufactured boat would have burned to the waterline as, without regs, most foam used in the US ignited fairly easily (this was 20+ years ago).

Marc Dacey

I heard a similar story in the context of “always tape a dark garbage bag over a busted hatch”. Good article, John.

Steven D'Antonio

Dick:

All good points, ABYC only recently, in August, included for the first time a requirement (for ABYC compliance) smoke detectors. That move was a very long time coming, too long. I marvel that so many boat builders continue to deliver bots with cabins and no smoke detectors, it beggars belief. When I asked one builder why his response was memorable, “They are so ugly, if they made a better looking one I’d install it”, it left me momentarily speechless. I said, “Perhaps, but burned boats and dead owners are really bad for business, wouldn’t you agree?”

On that subject, smoke detectors should be of the photoelectric rather than ionizing type, the former are more effective at identifying the smokey sort of fires that occur on boats. Combination PE and ionizing are fine.

John:

A very good piece. I used some of the very first Nest smoke/CO detectors that came out and have been very impressed (no failures). I even placed one in my detached garage, with its extremes of temp and humidity, and it’s worked very well for several years now (the Li Ion batteries did need replacing prematurely, which was expected). While I like the texting ability, when I registered mine it only allowed for one phone number, and no e mail capability. I haven’t checked recently, perhaps that’s changed. An interesting side note, start gasoline car in the garage and leave it for a few minutes and the Nest will announce the presence of CO. Start a diesel truck in the garage and it will never set off the CO alert, diesel engines produce a tiny fraction of CO. I researched this a while back and could find no incidences of CO poisoning from diesel engines (if anyone knows of a verifiable case please let me know). LP gas on the other hand is a CO producer and boat owners have been killed by CO produced by other vessels, which is why ABYC mandates the use of CO detectors on all vessels with enclosed cabins, regardless of the fuel used.

I did write an article about smoke and CO detector selection and placement, accessible here http://stevedmarineconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Smoke-Detectors-gearhead-may-2018.pdf Comments contained within regarding ABYC are now, thankfully, outdated.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Steve,
Always a pleasure to read your comments. Interesting about the CO production.
Early warning, even a very short early warning I would suspect, can make the difference between abandoning ship and cleaning up a bit of a mess and counting your blessings (and appreciating your preparation). I am glad ABYC is on-board with that requirement now. Much as boat owners are ultimately responsible, I believe it makes a big difference when manufacturers and organizations like ABYC take a position.
A similar area is high water alarms and bilge pump alarms: does ABYC speak to those early warning systems?
And lastly, I am also clear, that the early warnings are most effective when an established and practiced procedure can be quickly brought to bear on the problem: fire or flooding.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Steven D'Antonio

Dick:
I’m happy to report that ABYC does have standards for bilge pumps and high water alarm installations. It’s worth pointing out, and ABYC’s folks say this themselves, the Standards should be considered the floor and not the ceiling. Some standards are, in my estimation, not stringent enough, for example batteries can move up to an inch after installation, fuel tanks 1/4 of an inch.

Worthy of note, and a common defect I encounter, bilge pumps may not rely on check valves to prevent flooding, risers and anti-siphon valves are the preferred approach.

Rob Gill

Crikey John,
Scary stuff – could you post what the defect was and how to check for it – other than waiting for the CO alarm to sound? (we have a shiny new stove). Thanks,
Rob

Bruce Toal

I ordered two Maus extinguishers from the new US distributor, Nordfire. In July I got an email from Nick at Nordfire that shipments from Sweden had been delayed. Since then, no updates despite my emails. Anyone else have a better experience?

Andreas C. Norlin | MAUS

Regarding delays for our new distributor in the US.

We apologize for the delay. We will ship out the units on monday 24th of September to NordFire Inc. from Sweden. We have to relabel the unit and box, that is why there has been a delay.

We apologize for this and we assure you that next time you order it will be a very fast delivery.

We wish you a great day.

Andreas C. Norlin
Brand Manager & Founder
MAUS

Mark Stanley

Can the MAUS be carried on an airplane?

Dick Stevenson

Hi Mark,
Did you every get an answer to this question? I inquired about US mail and this was answered affirmatively (NordFire will send a copy of the confirmation letter with an order if requested: I am thinking of sending units by mail as a present) , but checked luggage was still a question mark.
Thanks, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Nathan O'Regan

You know why the bloke in the video is bare-armed, don’t you?
He’s an Aussie! We’re nuts!

Aside from that, I really like that you can add some real world experience (even if it’s only second hand) to these discussions. Makes it much more relatable, especially for us that are shore-bound (for now).

Christian Wojtowicz

My urge to comment is as a result of surviving an on board fire.
I was intending to start cooking on my (very established trademark) kerosene oven/stove, when the whole thing just spontaneously erupted in flames. What had happened was that a slow leak of kero from the back of the stove had been soaked up by the insulation material between the two stainless steel walls. However, before I eventually worked that out, as the flames erupted and started singeing the cabin lining, my CO alarm started screeching. My reaction being slow because of panic and, I think, starting to become overcome by fumes, I found myself staring at the CO alarm wondering how to stop it! Some survival surge thankfully kicked in and I made an upward dive for the topside. It took me some dozen or more full buckets of water heaved onto the stove area until the flames died away, and I was able to go back down below. As you can imagine, the mess, including burnt/singed woodwork, was indescribable – my cleanup started with me giving the stove the deep six.

I was carrying three fire extinguishers, all normally within reach from the galley, but the panic with the CO alarm took over, and by then the extinguishers were unreachable. The fire blanket (in a locker) was also by then out of reach – in retrospect, I think the fire blanket on top of the volatility of the kero would have risked spreading the fire around its edges, and it’s a big fire blanket.

I considered myself ready for fire, but the suddenness and toxic volatility as instantly broadcast by the CO alarm caused the preparation to be useless. I thank Huey that my brain made me successfully escape being overcome, and that the flooding with water worked.

Hoping that relating this might help!

Christian

Ken

We keep a fifty foot slinky type garden hose attached to a quick connect fitting in our forward head sink when underway. It acts as our firehose in addition to all the fire fighting equipment. A fire extinguisher won’t put out a heat generated fire like one generated off an already red hot item like a turbo. You’ll need lots of cool water to put it out otherwise it will keep self-igniting.

Charles L Starke MD FACP

Hi John
This and previous are super articles with great comments and analysis. I went through similar thinking and ordered two Maus fire extinguishers (not yet received) and installed three CO2 extinguishers. A five pound CO2 is aft in port lazarette with a consumer-grade fire mask, and another is in aft cabin to aid in escaping through central cockpit if galley has flames. A ten pound CO2 is installed in central nav station. These are new additions to previously installed dry, halon and halotron units.
I took Odd Arne Lande’s recommendation and installed the escape hood that he suggested in the galley:
https://www.frontline-safety.co.uk/drager-parat-7530-escape-hood-hard-case

We have two fire blankets in the galley.
The thinking on WD40 is enlightening, and I will to switch to Boeshield.
All this, along with the comment about the distraction in an emergency by the CO alarm!, is really helpful, and I will keep my life raft inspected!
Best wishes,
Charles L Starke MD FACP
s/v Dawnpiper

Rob Gill

Hi Charles,
You are probably aware of the danger with storing CO2 cylinders inside a cabin, so please excuse my raising this. However, I do think it is important that less experienced readers of these comments are aware of the hazard represented by steel painted CO2 cylinders, in a marine environment. The 5lb extinguisher you could probably survive if it leaked. The 10lb may be not.
Even a small pin hole, caused by rusting over even a few years, will be enough to release all the CO2 from an extinguisher overnight and with CO2 being heavier than air, presents a real threat to crew sleeping at lower bunk level. Even a careful visual inspection will not reveal a pin hole developing under the paint finish.
World Sailing Cat 1 offshore race rules and NZ Cat 1 for every NZ cruising boat (sail or power) departing offshore, prohibits the carriage of CO2 fire extinguishers, except where stored in a sealed deck-opening locker, that cannot physically drain in to the cabin.
Having said that, we carry a 5 kg CO2 cylinder (deck stowed) and I wouldn’t be without it – approaching big flames requires serious knock-down capability and in my experience, only CO2 (extinguishers) come close to achieving this.
Best regards,
Rob

Rob Gill

Hi John,
I have no personal experience with yacht Haylon type extinguishers so I only commented on CO2, but Haylon 1301 certainly presents the same asphyxiation risks for exactly the same reason as CO2 and maybe presents a few others. I believe this is exactly the same risk to sleeping crew, not to fire fighters – unless they are releasing multiple cylinders in a confined space. Speaking to my local fire station commander, the advice for CO2 (and other oxygen eliminating extinguishers) is to stay at the mid-level in height. Above the inert gas, but below the heat at the ceiling. Interestingly Haylon extinguishers are allowed under Cat 1 but there is no prohibition from cabin storage, which is rather curious.
This from the internet: “H3R Clean Agents” data sheet –
HEALTH HAZARDS: The main acute health hazard associated with release of this gas (Haylon 1301) is asphyxiation by displacement of oxygen. This gas is heavier than air and will sink into low areas, creating an asphyxiation hazard. The main chronic health hazard associated with releases of this gas is possible adverse effects to the central nervous system and possible cardiac sensitization and arrhythmias. Chronic skin exposure may cause dermatitis.
FLAMMABILITY HAZARDS: This gas is not flammable, but can decompose at very high temperatures forming toxic gases such as hydrogen bromide, hydrogen fluoride and bromine. Cylinders or tanks may rupture and explode if heated”.
So there seem to be a few issues with Haylon as a fire extinguisher to think through.

I would certainly want steel cylinders pressure tested regularly, especially if they are mounted in humid, warm, salty environments of some engine rooms I know. But the cylinders can’t be refilled after release / testing – not here in NZ at least, for environmental reasons.
Rob

Rob Gill

John,
I have to disagree with regard to CO2. Death occurs at low concentration of CO2 in air, as little as 25-30%. There are CO2 alarms that can be purchased but given that CO2 death can occur in as little as one minute, I am not sure I would trust this. Better to keep CO2 extinguishers out of the cabin.
One of the reasons to use Haylon, is humans can survive at concentration levels where fire doesn’t – but Haylon is designed to provide fire suppression AND human egress time, but not for sleeping in at night! As you say though, (for Haylon) this would be boat specific.
I also have to disagree on the need for pressure testing – especially for someone storing a CO2 extinguisher in the cabin where the lower 2 year CO2 pressure testing date (see below) would be advisable. My understanding of certified pressure testing of gas cylinders is that they are taken to a higher pressure than normal and kept at that level for about 12 hours. Any vulnerable rust pin holes will rupture at this time and result in gradual loss of pressure which can be detected on the pressure test gauge, thus failing certification. If the cylinder maintains pressure, they are judged safe for the re-testing period based on usage type (see below). Anyway, pressure testing is mandatory in most countries for all types of gas storage cylinders, and for fire extinguisher cylinders in commercial building, commercial vehicles and vessels including Cat 1 vessels in NZ, it is also required by law. Test periods here for cylinders are different depending on the gas type:
LPG – 10 years, CO2 – 5 years, CO2 Fire Extinguisher – 5 years, Dry Powder – Fire Extinguisher – 5 years, Foam – fire Extinguisher – 5 years, Water – Fire Extinguisher – 5 years, Nitrogen – 5 years, Argon – any application – 5 years, SCBA – Aluminium cylinders – 3 years, CO2 – fire extinguisher with “shrunk foot rings”
– 2 years, SCUBA – 2 years.
There was no mention of Haylon fire extinguisher cylinders on the site I checked (I am guessing because Haylon can no longer be purchased), but I would expect it to be similar to Argon, hence a safe period would likely be five years. Remember also these testing dates are designed for cylinders in normal environments. At sea, we should perhaps be more conservative.
Rob

Rob Gill

I should have added, the higher survivable level of Haylon concentration in air is possibly why Haylon extinguishers may be cabin stored for Cat 1, but I can’t find a source to confirm this hypothesis.

Jim Evans

I’ve only once deployed a dry extinguisher, after a major flare-up when I tried to refill an Origo stove by pouring alcohol down the hole without taking out the absorptive container and making sure it was cool. That was stupid enough, but after a couple of hours cleaning up I realized I could have just chucked water on it!
Original stoves are definitely the safest.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Jim,
Chucking water on an alcohol fire could very likely have made it worse.
The only two times I have been aboard a boat when a fire started was with stoves that used alcohol. The fires were on other people’s boats and I do not remember whether they were Origo stoves, but I do not remember anything special about Origo stoves that made them safer than other alcohol stoves: perhaps there is something (not pressurized?).
And, in one instance, solid water was used on the flames and the fire was spread to the nearby cushions as the solid water just spread the burning alcohol around (the alcohol just floated in front of the water?) rather than extinguishing it. Particularly scary was the fact that the flames of the alcohol on the cushions could not be seen in the brightly lit cabin and it was a few beats, and some damage, before their being on fire was noticed. In the other instance, a quick-witted owner used his sun shower to extinguish the flames: the spray of the shower was very effective when compared to solid water. A galley sink spray might also be similarly effective.
When I reworked systems on a boat and did the research long ago, it was clear to me that a well designed and executed propane system was safe and checked many/most of the boxes necessary for living aboard. I have not changed my mind with the one caveat that propane distributers come up with a universal fitting.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Jim Evans

Yes, the Origo is unpressurised. I’m interested in your experience with an alcohol fire: certainly water seemed to work well when they used alcohol fuel in Indy cars. I agree that the flames are invisible in sunlight. Pressurized alcohol stoves are deadly: almost everyone I know who has ever used one has had fire problems with it.
It’s hard to see how you could get a flare-up with an Origo (provided, of course, that unlike me you don’t do something stupid with it). And I agree that a properly installed, maintained and operated propane system need not be very dangerous. After all, most of us haven’t been blown up yet.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Jim,
It has been too long to remember with any clarity. At least one fire was spilled alcohol and the fact that it was spilled and on fire went unnoticed till it spread to a kitchen towel or something like that. And again, from memory long ago, solid water was not recommended to fight an alcohol fire, but a spray was: which met with the observations I made on the fires I witnessed. Origo may make it hard to start a fire, but I am quite aware that my capacity to do something stupid knows few limitations and I am sure that the fires I witnessed were similarly described by the perpetrators as a result of something stupid that they had done.
Safety procedures are an interesting topic and need to address inadvertent stupidity (among other things).
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Denis Foster

Hello,
We upgraded all fire prevention and fighting measures on our HR 46 :

– 4 Maus regular and XL that doubles the dry powder extinguishers ( that would be used as last resort…)
– we also have to halon type Aircraft extinguishers
– Fireboy automatic system with fuel and ventilation shutdown.
– Nereus CO and propane detectors and solenoid
– Nest smoke and CO detectors

All of these products seem to be well above some average equipments often seen as factory installed first mount. We will try on a training fire drill the Maus soon.

With your coments we will investigate the breathing and using pressure water .
Thank’s to all for sharing your real world experience to make our lives safer at sea.

Denis

JCFlander

Good article, as usual.

But those somewhat hazardous spray cans (flammability-wise, WD40 and Boeshield are virtually equal) , solvent bottles and other combustible liquids are, I think, quite unavoidable on a boat that does mostly DIY repair.
If someone wishes to reduce their risk contribution, perhaps a metal cabinet with some amount of insulation and both internal fire detection and extinguishing capacity would make things somewhat safer. And it doesn’t need to be top notch to be useful.
That would then protect flammables from both external fire and that improbable self-igniting.

Ernest

Actually it might be easier to just keep such “explosives” in an outside compartment instead of inside the cabin. What would be of greater concern for me was the emergency flares.

Odd Arne Lande

I´m glad you don´t take it easy on this important issue, and educational correctly with a summary and It also adds more thoughts. Ken has a good point in attaching a hose so he can have water ready fast. Water can kill fires fast and as mentioned by Dick spray is more effective as small droplets will evaporate faster. 1 litre of water produce over 1600 l of steam, it cools down the fire (take the energy). The problem is to generate small enough droplets, you need some pressure inn and a jet that produce the spray. Anything is better than none, so a garden jet and the pressure we get from an onboard water system can work.

You can use water on most thing also on alcohol and it´s not dangerous to use at electricity, even high voltage if the water is clean. You can combine waterjet in an open angle and inject powder extinguisher in centre to extinguish oil fires, it´s very effective as the powder reach a longer distance and the droplets will take energy from the fire when they evaporate. Regarding powder clean-up, the cost is about 1000€ for each kilo used in a house.
Some thoughts on CO2 cylinders also, I feel more comfortable to keep them outside.

A good habit is to shut the gas valve after use every time. And good smoke detectors are mandatory and maybe more in a boat than home, but don´t take it from your home then.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
A deck wash is good but often at the bow of the boat whereas most fires, I suspect, are located aft. A salt water spray at the galley sink can save loads of domestic water and can serve other functions, but I also keep it in mind as one of the tools for fighting a fire as well as the deck wash hose. As a spray, it has the heat dispersal function mentioned by Odd Arne and is (in many/most boats) ready-at-hand near center ship and the stove. Mine is T’d off my deck (anchor) wash-down pump so it is really quite powerful and can spray with good distance.
Both, however, suffer from the results of throwing salt water around rather than fresh.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Odd Arne Lande

Sea water can be used to extinguish fires. Any water beats no water, sea water is good if it is what you have available. If used at higher voltage than 50V AC it´s smart to use a fog pattern. In my view the safe distance can be 4 feet, if you use no fog the distance must be higher, over 10 feet. But take it as a last resort and use it if it´s the only water you have.

But in the real world on a ship you shut down the electricity with the main switches and have not to think much about it. AC is more dangerous to our body than DC since it interferes with the heart signal, and also that AC is more than you think -peak to peak.

For the electrical nerds; when calculating current through the body the resistance is not easy to say accurate and safety margins has to be added. New research says about 1500 ohm with 220v and higher Ω with lover voltage. Calculate with ohm´s law (the one that every boat owner knows) and you will find the current, and it’s the current that kills. At an AC current of 15 mA muscle contraction can be strong, if the current exceeds 30 mA this could cause heart fibrillation if the flow passes through the heart region.

The safe low electrical limit is 50V AC and 120V DC where you can do work without knowing anything about Georg Ohm and physics, but it´s not very smart since high current shorting will start a fire.
Think about it, most boats are not grounded with the hull not even metal boats if done the right way. Then the electrical voltage itself should be short circuit at the end point of the water spray between the connections, any thoughts on that?

Salt water will add corrosion problems but that will powder extinguishers also, maybe more since billions of small particles at 40µm size will be all over and inside delicate electronics. Anyway, who care if you survive.

Tim

John,

Great article. I have ordered Manus x3 and Firemask x2 today ! Many thanks.

Alastair Currie

I inspect drilling rigs regularly. In the cabins they must have a grab bag with heat resistant gloves, battery powered waterproof, ignition safe torch and a smoke hood. There has to be a grab bag per bunk, preferably near the bunks in case the room is smoke filled or filling with smoke. Smoke hoods have limited duration, typically 15 minutes and while some have heat retarding properties most are only for breathing safely in smoke filled atmospheres and will offer poor protection from heat. In my opinion, they are only useful as evacuation devices from areas where escape to fresh air is impossible.

One area I also check is the safety induction when crews arrive on the rig. I expect to see the smoke hood use and limitations explained as well as a model available for demonstration purposes. Now the key point. If you have not tried one on, then you will waste valuable seconds and may even don the hood wrongly. Beards can be an issue as there is a nose and mouth seal as well as the neck seal. The type you have should be designed to be used with facial hair. It is worth buying an additional one to practise using because some require the cartridge to be opened by pulling on a ring pull, as well as to practising donning e.g. how hard do you have to pull the neck seal to get it over your head, how best to fit the nose and mouth seal. I have them on my boat in the fore cabin and aft cabin, as these are areas that persons may have to escape from through the saloon. To be honest, I do not think they would ever be used in a serious fire on a small yacht as first action would be to escape on deck via the fore cabin or aft cabin hatches. The time to don would be wasted compared to opening and evacuating upwind.

Understand how to use, the limitations of the equipment and practise donning.

Rob Gill

Hi Alistair,
A good point about practising use of the hood and thanks for the tip that they aren’t straight forward to put on – we will have a demo model from now on. A point on heat resistance, for a fire fighting application with a mask, our local fire chief strongly advised the addition of a wool flash mask, the type firefighters and racing drivers use – they can be readily purchased in safety stores and are inexpensive.
As long as the wearer takes normal firefighting precautions, like fighting the fire from down low and staying under the heat, you should be fine in a mask and flash hood. By example, I remember a fire fighting course for my 2nd Mate’s ticket at sea, two of us were manning a firehose in full f.f. gear and BAs. Just ahead of us was an intense oil fire blaze so hot we were “melting” and thick black smoke masked our vision, despite trying to stay low and apply all our fire training. Eventually (maybe only 2 minutes but seemed like ages) we brought the fire under control, the spray cleared the smoke. Beneath us, lying on the floor looking up was our fire service instructor, not wearing any mask or apparatus wanting to know if we were going to take all day and use up all our air and drain the local reservoir completely? Lesson learned, the heat gradient in a fire is massive, one can totally survive down low. Unless you are using a CO2 extinguisher, in which case you need to be in the mid-level and so a flash hood becomes more vital. We have a fire resistant boiler suit and gloves in our kit, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use these, the flash hood and mask for any fire fight on board that could be won well within the 20 minutes.
Cheers
Rob

Odd Arne Lande

Good important information here and one must use common sense. You will not become a professional firefighter yourself even with similar equipment on board. But you will be the best firefighter that is available. You will probably be able to reduce most fires in the start-up phase even by holding your breath and using extinguishers. Then comes the important aftermath phase, this is where fires get back up. If you now have gloves and filter masks / smoke hood as mentioned here, you can stay in an environment the short time it takes to find the fireplace and complete the job that may involve the use of tools and more fire extinguisher and water. To get the heat fast out with opening the hatches, is also important now. Use of non-synthetic clothing that protects the skin (coverall) is wise to have available.
Don´t know what’s common in US and Canada, but here in Europe there is no requirement for smoke detectors aboard and most manufacturers don´t care, and sadly most of their customers also.

Rob Gill

Hi Odd Arne,
Your comment alines closely with our thinking and planning for fire emergencies at sea. Except the interesting comment about opening the hatches to remove heat – rather than keeping them closed to reduce flare ups. Could you please add a little more on how to judge the right moment – I am guessing when no more new smoke is visible, and when any embers are extinguished. Are there any other tell-tales?
One small change we are making is to add a MAUS extinguisher in the galley area.
Cheers
Rob

Odd Arne Lande

A good question that is harder to provide an exact answer on as there are many factors that plays in, a little understanding of fire physics helps. A fire on board can be detected quickly with smoke detectors, it’s important to get a quick notice so we do not get into the fighting too late. If the hatches and dorades are closed, a fire may turn off itself when the airs oxygen is burned down to a lower level. It is useful if we during this phase mix in an extinguishing media. If we inject substances such as powder, inert gas, halon, or potassium-based smoke that encapsulate flammable particles, the fire will be able to extinguish quickly unless we have electrical engine compartment ventilation running that leads to more air supply. By switching off the main power switches we eliminate this and also a fire where wires can short circuit or give weird connections, like starting a fuel pump or the engine.

Firefighters use water-fog up into the room to cool down the gases when the door is opened and then they also reduce the risk of backdraft, the latter is unlikely on a boat fire that is being fought fast. A fire inside is not like on a movie where we can see the flames, it’s thick smoke that covers it all. Black smoke if there is a heavy fire burning with many hydrocarbons, lighter colour if it is a smouldering fire.

Respiratory protection is helpful when we decide to get in and vent the dangerous smoke out to get an overview and prevent gases from igniting new material. In this phase we need to have a new extinguisher or water ready to complete the work.

The second scenario is probably most likely to happen, a fire with some hatches open. If we have some fire extinguishers ready and can stay inside to fight down the fire it is good to remove the hot gases fast, and then more hatches can be opened. It gives a better view and a less dangerous environment to work in while the temperature drops. And as said, with early warning a fire normally will not have evolved into something that is completely hopeless to attack, -if the gas valve is closed.

Julian Morgan

Dear John
Following your excellent article on fire fighting, I purchased via Amazon three Nest 2nd generation smoke and CO alarms while we were cruising the East Coast of the USA in September at a not insignificant cost of $329. We are now in the Bahamas on route to the Pacific and unfortunately 2 out of the 3 units have failed – they occasionally beep about every 2 minutes (usually in the middle of the night) and the recorded voice says they have failed and must be replaced. They are located on the boat in dry areas and have not been exposed to smoke, water, CO etc. I have sent an email today to Amazon but as you can image the logistics of returning the items for replacement or refund are complex. I will let you know in due course what progress I make but in the meantime perhaps people should be cautious about investing in Nest alarms?

Dave Meindl

Has anyone who uses the NEST detectors tried placing one in the engine compartment? The NEST site says the detector should not be installed in a location where the normal ambient temperature is greater than 100F. I’m guessing that on a 95 degree summer day my engine compartment tops 100F but I’ve never checked that out.

Francis Livingston

Greetings all,

I wonder if anyone who has not witnessed a house fire, or been involved in one, can fully appreciates just how exponentially fast a fire can grow. Years ago I watched a fire take out a two story house. What began as puffs of smoke coming out of a kitchen window became flames roaring out of every window in the house in less then 5 minutes.

I totally agree with your suggestion that If one can’t get a fire in an enclosed space under control in under a minute run for your lives. The issue isn’t just poison gases building up but also a process called “flashover”. Flashover occurs when the radiant heat from a fire causes everything flammable nearby to burst into flame spontaneously and there is no running away from that.

Yesterday I was introduced to a type of fire extinguisher I have never seen before. It is manufactured by a company in Italy and is A,B,C and K rated in Europe. It is called an Element Fire Extinguisher, comes in three sizes and the midsize E50 is sold on amazon,ca for about $40 Cdn. It is about the size of a road flare and just as easy to use.

Advantages:

  • reasonable cost
  • small size and light weight
  • one handed use
  • no maintenance required
  • no corrosion issues
  • no expiry date
  • safe to store in wet environments and unaffected by extreme temperatures, humidity, or vibration.
  • 50 second discharge time from the E50 (as compared to 12 seconds for a 5 lb dry chemical. (E100’s are also available)
  • low pressure discharge so no issues with it spreading liquid fires
  • the gas that it releases is heavier then air so it can smother fires underneath things
  • No mess, non-toxic, non-corrosive, environmentally friendly (so they say)

Disadvantages:

  • one time use, once it is started there is no turning it off or recharging it
  • I question its ability to work in a wind but in an enclosed space that would not be a problem.

All in all it seems like a shoe-in for use in boats. Has anyone had the opportunity to try one out?

Francis Livingston

Correction on the price and availability. Amazon only carries a mount for the Element extinguisher. The cost for the E50 on the company’s website is $110 cdn all in, so not all that cheap but if it does what it says it does it is still worth the price in my books