|This Could Happen to You|
Part 3: Fires spread unbelievably fast.
By Elizabeth A. Ginns — April 2003
According to Fireboy-Xintex, a company that specializes in marine fire-extinguishing systems for engine rooms, 90 percent of all fires start in the engine room. If an engine room fire occurs, immediately shut off the engine(s) and close the fuel valves. Sometimes simply turning off the engines will kill the fire. The next most common place for a fire is the galley. Here you should concentrate on isolating the fire, shutting off the stove, and quickly using the proper extinguisher. If it’s a grease fire, use an extinguisher that doesn’t use water as the fire-extinguishing agent—in other words, don’t use a Class A unit. Since Class B extinguishers are the most common ones required onboard, a B would be appropriate. And never add water to a grease fire.
Valpreda says that, generally speaking, if you don’t get to the fire within about two minutes of its onset, you probably won’t be able to put it out. Fires spread unbelievably fast, so keep an exit behind you whenever you’re attempting to extinguish a fire so you can make a quick escape. Also position an extinguisher in each high-risk area, like the galley and engine room, so you don’t have to go far to get it.
Use a fire extinguisher only on small, contained fires; if the fire is big and spreading, it’s probably too late for you to control, and you should focus on getting everyone to safety (abandoning ship if necessary). If you are able to extinguish the fire, close the door (if applicable) to the area to prevent reflash, and do not open the area again until you’re sure the fire is out, as doing so could cause a back-draft explosion. After you are certain it’s extinguished—and remember that fires can smolder for hours, even days—ventilate the heck out of the area.
Above all, accept the fact that you are not immune to an onboard fire, no matter how experienced you are or what kind of boat or electronics you own. Prepare yourself for the unexpected because, as we all know, in boating the unexpected is a fact of life. Make sure your boat is fire-ready and fireproof before you leave the dock. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Fireboy-Xintex Phone: (616) 735-9380. www.fireboy-xintex.com.
This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.