Fire drills ensure that officers and crew know how to fight a fire efficiently, at least in an ideal world. In the case of the bulk log carrier Taokas the reality was that shipboard fire drills were of little value when a real fire occurred in the accommodation.
Australia’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission was unable to determine how the fire started in an AB’s cabin on 11 July 2013 because the crew had started cleaning it after the blaze was extinguished. True, the crew did extinguish the fire after 25 minutes but showed that some basic firefighting knowledge was lacking.
Effective firefighting is about organisation, fire drills enable crew to know their place in that organisation, what’s expected of them, and gain confidence in that organisation. Once the alarm was sounded and the fire confirmed it was the master’s task to go to the bridge and establish a command and control centre from which he could direct operations and deal with communications with shore authorties. Instead he went to join other members of the crew in the vicinity of the fire.
It is important to muster those onboard, especially in port where shore personnel may be aboard. No muster was carried out.
Another aspect of fire drills is to ensure that crew and offciers know the functions of their designated fire teams. In the case of Taokas Wisdom the fire teams were put together ad hoc from the crew hanging around near the fire location.
The chief officer attempted to extinguish the fire using a portable fire extinguisher. He did notuse an SCBA so he was defeated by the volunimous smoke being emitted by the fire. It was unfortunate that he did not close the door of the burning cabin on his reptreat. The cabin door and bulkhead were designed to withstand a fire for for 30 minutes, closing the door would have contained the fire and prevented it’s spread. Nor did they close intervening doors as they retreated.
With the doors open and ventilation not shut down the fire had everything it needed to spread.
The whole sad story is given in the TAIC report but it might not be a bad idea to look at your own fire drills. Are they relistic? Do they encompass different fire scenaros? Do officers ailnd crew know what the fire-fighting organisation is? Do they understand the importance of containing a fire and starving it of oxygen?
Remember that, in a crisis like this, the one thing you really need is time. Closing the cabin door and cutting the ventilation would have given at least 30 minutes to assess the situation and find a resolution. The more time you can make for yourself the better the chances of a positive outcome.
Had the crew acted in accordance with the drills that all seafarers are required to practice, they would have given themselves the necessary time