SCI Develops Premiere Fire Training Dedicated to Inland Mariners

Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Inland mariners are suppressing staged fires on a towboat superstructure in a new "hands-on" safety course developed by Seamen's Church Institute's Center for Maritime Education Paducah, Ky. SCI's creative initiative brought together the City of Paducah, a local college, and the maritime industry to create the first-ever fire safety course designed specifically for those who work the rivers.

Developed in response to updated U.S. Coast Guard regulations, this fire safety course, (recently approved by the USCG), is available to licensed and non-licensed mariners who work on inland rivers. The two-day course includes classroom instruction and controlled burns on local fire department's fire field equipped with a superstructure (the top portion) of towboat and a tank barge.

Engineers from American Commercial Barge Lines (ACBL) were the first mariners to attend the inaugural two-day course in June.

"I've seen several fires on boats," said Jim Gilkison, a Special Projects Engineer who has worked for 19 years at ACBL. "Learning in a towboat-specific environment makes this more practical." Gilkinson had taken a maritime fire safety course in New Orleans in 1997.

"In New Orleans we watched a film about the burning of the USS Saratoga off Vietnam. Here in Paducah we saw a film about a towboat on the upper Mississippi that burned for three days," he said. The film, part of the one day of classroom instruction shows mariners how to identify towboat specific danger points for fire fighters and agencies involved in fire control.

"We need to be able to tell fire fighters where fuel tanks are stored, which pumps are full of gasoline, and the location of paint lockers," Gilkison said. "This could mean the difference between ending a fire and losing a boat."

The second day of instruction begins with training in a confined, smoke-filled building. "I would have thought that you just stand up and run," said Larry Thatcher, a Chief Engineer for ACBL, and 25-year veteran of the company. "But this course taught me that you need to travel close to the ground."

"Fire is a real possibility on a boat," he continued. "You have engines running all the time and on my vessel we carry 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel. It could all go quickly and I've seen it happen."

The trainees wear fire fighter "full turn-out gear" that includes self-contained breathing apparatuses when they head for the fire field.

Their first lesson on the towboat superstructure is to control a flange fire where one blank flange comes loose and catches fire. The scenario requires one man to turn off the gas valve. Another simulated fire involves fire breaking out on a high-pressure fuel line on the side of the engine. The trainees must cool it down and turn off the source of the gas.

"It was pretty realistic when we had to smother a pan fire," said Gilkison referring to a 5 x 5 ft. fire similar to one found in a bilge. Experienced fire fighting veterans teach the SCI-developed course that included input from The Four Rivers Training Consortium, consisting primarily of towing companies including Ingram Barge Company, American Commercial Barge Lines, Crounse Corporation, and Bluegrass Marine; the City of Paducah; and West Kentucky Vocational College.

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