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Death Trap

Of course, fires onboard yachts are not overly common. Indeed, Carl Lessard, who heads up the Yacht Loss Prevention Program for the Private Client Group of AIG (www.aig.com), one of the world’s largest underwriters of yachts, readily admits that fire is the least frequent marine casualty his company deals with. “But,” he added while watching me slurp Gatorade, “fire is easily the most serious casualty in terms of loss.”

After the exercise begins there’s a little light
After the exercise begins there’s a little light (left) and the smoke and heat don’t arrive immediately

This last point used to keep Lessard up at night, of course. But last year, he had an idea. In the midst of one of Resolve’s Advanced Firefighting classes he was taking to maintain his skipper’s license, it occurred to him there might be a way to reduce the seriousness of shipboard fires and thereby reduce losses of lives and property.

The author adjusts his breathing apparatus

The idea was simple. It was Lessard’s experience that truly catastrophic yacht fires often occur in boat basins, marinas, and shipyards—one vessel catches fire and, if the flames are not contained, others follow suit with horrific results. Moreover, it was also his experience that shore-based firefighters are the ones who typically handle these conflagrations, oftentimes with little or no knowledge of yachts, their crewing regimes, layouts, and systems. What if some of these folks from a yachty part of the country were to attend a multiday program at Resolve, spending half their time in a classroom learning about yacht fires and the other half actually fighting them in a simulator? And then afterwards, what if they all toured a few yachts with crewmembers available for questioning?

“So here’s the result,” said Lessard with a grin, nodding towards a bunch of red-faced young men jostling past to remove their helmets and masks, peel off their coats, and chug Gatorade. Like an infantry platoon, they were a society unto themselves. All from the city fire department of West Palm Beach, a decidedly yachty part of the country. Brash, edgy, radically irreverent, yet also professional and deadly serious. As they finished removing and stowing their gear, they began boarding a bus headed north to West Palm Beach and a series of yacht tours at the Rybovich Yacht Yard, AIG’s partner in Lessard’s program along with Resolve. 

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