Last week, we discussed how to prevent a fire from occurring on your boat. This week, we are going to discuss how to respond to a fire.
Fire on a boat is more of a threat than the same size fire on land. On land, we can simply walk away. On our boat, we enter another potentially threatening environment -- the water.
In either event, the captain must make a fast and clear decision: Fight or flee? If the fire is a fuel fire (that is, some part of the gasoline system has been breached), the situation is very dangerous. If the fire is small and does not threaten the main or auxiliary fuel tanks, trying to put out the fire with your fire extinguisher might be advisable. However, gasoline fires can go from small to huge in a matter of seconds.
While you are fighting the fire, have someone put out the anchor and everyone put on their life jackets. Most fires are in the midsection or rear of the boat, and the anchor will keep the bow into the wind with the smoke and flame going astern.
Jane and I have already made the decision that if we have a gasoline fire aboard we are "out of here." We will don life jackets and abandon ship. It's now the insurance company's problem.
Propane fires are a close second in terms of danger. I would probably try to extinguish the fire if I could shut off the propane tank without getting burned. Your call.
If the fire is gasoline- or propane-fueled and you have abandoned ship, be careful if the fire seems to have gone out of its own accord. Think twice before re-boarding. The fire may still be smoldering and could explode anew at any time.
If the fuel fire occurs when you are secured to the fuel dock, there are other things you can do. If the fire starts from a spark where the filler hose is going into the gas tank, do not pull the hose out of the tank. Stop the flow of gas and go for the fuel shutoff switch on land and the larger extinguisher on dock. (Know ahead of time where these are located.)
Other fires, such as grease flare-ups on a grill or stove, present challenges but are usually more easily extinguished. First, turn off the flame. If you can smother the fire, that's good. Otherwise, use your fire extinguisher and don't stop until the extinguisher is empty. Do not extinguish a grease fire with water.
To operate the extinguisher, detach the extinguisher from its bracket, pull the safety pin and then squeeze the trigger. Spray the base of the fire with a back-and-forth movement.
If the fire is wood, paper or other combustibles, your chances of putting it out are good. But watch out if the fire is close to fuel; it could spread quickly.
As soon as you can, put on your life preserver in preparation for the last resort -- abandoning the ship.
To learn more about this subject and other important boating safety topics, enroll in the next boating safety class presented by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Army Corps of Engineers on Sept. 27. For details, contact me at (864) 391-2170 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Jay Weidman at (800) 533-3478, ext. 1172, or at email@example.com.
John L. VanOsdol is commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, CSRA Flotilla. He can be reached at (864) 391-2170, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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