Two recent fires aboard cruise ships raise the question of how crews are prepared to battle potentially fatal blazes at sea.
Schools like the Resolve Maritime Academy in Fort Lauderdale make it their mission to train seafarers for such events.
Its firefighting and marine safety courses are designed to equip ship crew with the know-how and skills needed to effectively work as a team.
“We train them intensively on how to handle a fire,” said Joseph Farrell Jr. president and chief executive officer of Resolve Marine Group, which runs the school, one of the leading marine firefighting schools in the nation.
Training includes practical experience on its 140-foot firefighting simulator, the T/V Gray Manatee that’s designed to simulate a burning ship.
The simulator has an engine room, galley, catwalks and multiple watertight doors and hatches. It also has more than 20 compartments connected by horizontal and vertical passageways.
These features put crews in realistic situations with live fire, smoke and heat.
“This is as real as it gets,” said cargo ship engineer Ron Parrish, 52, who attended a training session Wednesday.
Parrish recalled his first experience putting out a fire in an engine room of a cargo ship in 2005. “It was scary, it spread fast, but we managed to put it under control,” he said.
During simulation training, which involves scenarios such as fighting fires from a fuel spill on deck or in the engine room and galley, cruise ship personnel are taught that safety of the firefighting team comes first.
“If they can’t function, they can’t protect themselves and the passengers,” said Tom Jones, training manager for the firefighting program.
Proper firefighting techniques such as safe water management during a fire are also stressed.
“If you pump several thousand gallons of water on a ship, it could have a detrimental result,” such as instability of the ship that could cause it to list or capsize, Jones said.
They’re also taught to use built in fire-suppression systems in areas like the engine room to quickly put out fires to minimize risk and injury, he said.
Ship crew participating in Resolve’s advanced firefighting training typically includes command and front line staff that “fight the fire,” Jones said.
Last Friday an engine room fire aboard the 694-guest Azamara Quest knocked out its propulsion. That followed a February fire on the Costa Allegra that left it adrift in the Indian Ocean. Neither fire caused any casualties.
Miami-basedRoyal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.which owns Azamara Quest – has worked with the academy for more than a decade, and more than 8,500 crew members from its cruise brands have received firefighting instruction there.
When asked about the readiness of the Quest crew during the recent fire, spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said that in addition to specialized firefighting training, the ship’s officers and security team also participate in safety sessions that teach fast and effective emergency response.
There are also frequent drills on Royal Caribbean ships to train and prepare crew to respond to a variety of potential situations, Martinez said.