Captain’s Corner: Marine Fire Fighting

U.S. Coast Guard photo of CAPT Tom Allan taken by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy TamargoThis Captain’s Corner is brought to you by CDR Alisa Praskovich who is a leading member of the Sector’s Marine Transportation System Recovery Unit (MTSRU), which is established for disaster events that significantly disrupt the Marine Transportation System (MTS). The MTSRU’s primary task is to develop recommended courses of action to the Captain of the Port on how to facilitate both short and long term recovery of the MTS. As always, if you have recommendations for future topics, we would appreciate your input. See you in the port!
– CAPT Tom Allan

Marine Fire Fighting, Establishing a Unified Response

By CDR Alisa Praskovich, USCG Sector Jacksonville, Marine Transportation System Recovery Unit (MTSRU)

A marine fire involving one or more vessels or a maritime facility has strong potential to disrupt maritime commerce and result in significant loss of life or property if not adequately managed. The Northeast and Eastern Central Florida Area Contingency Plan (ACP) provides guidance for responding to marine fires occurring within the jurisdiction of the USCG Sector Jacksonville Captain of the Port zone. This guidance outlines how to establish a unified response between commercial entities and federal, state and local responders. Although the Coast Guard is called upon to provide assistance at marine fires, it is the responsibility of the owner/operator of the vessel and local authorities to provide fire fighting capabilities. Vessel and facility owners are ultimately responsible for the safety of the vessel or facility under their control, which includes providing adequate fire fighting protection, usually in the way of providing a pre-identified marine fire fighting company. Equally important in managing a marine fire is the support of other key stakeholders such as the Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT) and maritime industry partners. Thus, marine fire fighting response efforts are lead by a unified team comprised of federal and state agencies, local responders, such as Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department (JFRD), vessel and facility operators, JAXPORT, and maritime industry personnel.

At a Harbor Safety Committee meeting in 2010, JFRD Chief Charles Drysdale expressed his concern for the port and JFRD fire fighters, who are responsible for any response to a fire that includes risk to vast amounts of hazardous materials on waterfront terminals and deep draft vessels that enter and depart Jacksonville daily. Since 2010, JFRD conducted a series of three tabletop exercises and qualified a significant number of JFRD members in Marine Firefighter Levels I and II to prepare for a full scale exercise and incidents that may occur within the port. On April 2nd, a full scale marine fire fighting exercise was held at the North Florida Shipyard using the M/V EL FARO, a 737’ deep draft U.S. flagged cargo vessel, operated by Sea Star Lines. There were four major objectives of the exercise, which included evaluating plans for:

  • Agencies to respond, extinguish, contain and salvage a shipboard fire;
  • Agencies to establish on-site incident management and coordinate with the Emergency Operations Center;
  • Agencies to establish common communication and share information with participating agencies and stakeholders; and
  • Agencies to disseminate information to the public and external stakeholders in a coordinated, timely manner.

The exercise simulated a main engine space fire that crew members were unable to contain and evacuation of the vessel. JFRD responded with nine different firefighting apparatus, two Marine Fire Units, Rescue Units, and teams from five stations. The Coast Guard team, led by the Captain of the Port, provided waterside security, with establishment of a Command Post in JAXPORT’s Mobile Security Operations Center at the scene. It was evident that the substantial and detailed marine firefighting training program, undertaken by JFRD, was successful. Their response techniques, communication procedures and coordination with other agencies achieved seamless interoperability between all stakeholders. Any exercise would not be successful without lessons learned. We are currently reviewing the exercise evaluations and comments from all participants to develop a comprehensive After Action Report that will certainly lead to new procedures, doctrine and techniques to improve the port’s marine fire fighting capabilities. The next goal is to work toward a second full scale exercise testing the response to a vessel fire in-transit on the St. Johns river and the various risk factors and critical decisions associated with that scenario.

I would like to thank Jacksonville Fire and Rescue for their leadership in this project, along with SEA STAR, TOTE SERVICES, JAXPORT, and North Florida Shipyard for their generous support and participation in ensuring the utmost port readiness.