The biggest and probably the most dangerous risk on Catching Up isn’t sinking … it’s fire!!!
If we have any other kind of emergencies we can stay on board and manage with whatever is left of the yacht! A fire on board has one outcome, we would have to abandon our yacht because it’ll burn till there’s nothing left.
Due to the high risk of fire on board, we decided to enrol in a 3-day course at Pulse Training where we would be introduced to marine fire fighting. We arrived on the Monday having already completed two other STCW courses at the Maritime Safety Training and Development Centre the previous week. We were all led into the classroom where we spent the first few hours doing the required paperwork before starting the theory learning. Before going into this course I had a basic understanding of fire, this theory though was brutally eye opening, especially how quickly fire can get out of hand. A video was put up on the screen with a timer. The video was of a couch with a cigarette dropped down the side of it,. within 3 minutes, the entire room was engulfed in flames. On a boat, you have approximately 3 minutes to evacuate before the entire vessel is on fire. This is why fire awareness is so important!
Once we’d completed the theory, we were divided into two smaller groups. Our group was seconded to the side area where we were given an introduction to breathing apparatus or to the layman, oxygen tanks. The breathing apparatus has three components: the mask, tank support frame and the tank. We were shown how to connect the tank, pressure test it, then to hoist the tank support onto our back and breathe using the oxygen tank Our group moved on to the fire extinguisher component of the course, this involved using a powder and CO2 extinguisher to put out a class C (Electrical) and Class B (Liquid) fire. The first thing I noticed when using the powder extinguisher was the huge mess it makes, it covers everything in powder but it will extinguish the fire. CO2 extinguishers are incredibly effective in extinguishing electrical fires; powder can be used on both but given the mess I would prefer to use the CO2 extinguisher, should the situation allow. I have never operated an extinguisher before so it was a good learning experience to know how to actually use one. After safely going through extinguishing the fires, we had the opportunity to see how a wet chemical foam extinguisher works. These are more commonly used for liquid fires or cooking oils and tend to be less common. The instructor Leon showed us the various methods to effectively use this extinguisher. The extinguisher component kept us busy until it was time to go home for the day.
The next morning we arrived early to our awaiting exam on the theory from the day before. Once completing the exam we were yet again set up on the fire ground for an instruction on how to use the fire hose and nozzle. The other instructor Zack Botha instructed us on how to operate the nozzle when we would enter the fire simulator. On completing this, I was selected to be a part of the first fire team to enter and extinguish the fires in the three floor simulator.
We would enter from the top deck and use ladders to make our way down to the ground floor to fight the fires. Both Leon and Zack would accompany the 6-person team with a third instructor Sydney De Jager providing external support should it be required. The rest of the class was separated into a BA Officer, the backup fire team and a support team.
As I was part of the first team, I was sent off to don my fire fighting gear, breathing apparatus and then get into my spot. Once we had all our equipment on and the fires in the simulator had been lit, we were guided to the top entry point. One by one, we carefully descended into the pitch-black, smoke filled room. The entire area was dark with only small beams of light entering through the gaps in the container doors. There was no noise except the inhales and exhales of our group. It was a very surreal experience mixed with fear and excitement. Once all 6 of us were set, the fire hose was fed through a small opening in the container wall on the second floor. We did a role call, before opening the hatch to the ground floor. As the door opened you could immediately feel a change in the temperature. We descended through the thermal layer, it was extremely hot, probably about 190 degrees The fire-fighting suit did an excellent job insulating my body however I could feel my left ankle getting incredibly hot and painful as the hot air penetrated through the equipment. Team member 1 and I (number 2) both then moved further into the room on the ground floor to combat the first fire. We kept low and slowly moved over an obstacle to get into a second room. As we rounded the corner we saw a bright glow coming out of a cut open barrel packed with burning timber. We hit the barrel with a burst of water before slowly moving forward right up to the barrel and fully opening the hose to ensure the fire was completely extinguished. We then returned to the staging area to assist the rest of the team in fighting two more fires. On completing this exercise, we returned to the top floor before exiting the simulator. The heat in the room was not nearly as hot as it could have been but exiting the simulator, I was covered in sweat and felt incredibly hot.
The last day of the course consisted of some more hose training, search and rescue training throughout the simulator and an evacuation exercise from the simulator filled with a fire fighting foam bubble solution. I would have to say after completing the 3-day course I can easily say I never want to be a fireman. It takes a special type of person to enter a burning structure and extinguish a fire. Zack and Leon provided very good tips on the Do’s and Don’ts when dealing with a fire. I strongly feel that at least everyone should experience how to use a fire extinguisher and be aware of how quickly a fire can spread. Zack, Leon, Sydney and the rest of the team from Pulse Training provided an excellent fire safety course. If anyone ever intends doing a STCW Marine Fire Fighting course, I would highly recommend them doing it here. Leaving the course, I felt more confident knowing that I know what to do should I ever have to deal with a fire. I also left with a much higher respect for the men and women who do this daily.