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A Bad Fire on a Boat is a Deathrap

Inferno! No Literally

 Photo: USCG/Jpetty Officer 3rd Class Sherman Baldwin

Photo: USCG/Jpetty Officer 3rd Class Sherman Baldwin

We check out a roaring-hot new program that helps land-based firefighters deal with dockside conflagrations.

For a middle-ager, I figure I’m in pretty good shape. I don’t smoke or drink and, whenever the mood strikes, I can jog two or three miles at the drop of a running shoe. But hey, an adventure I had at the Resolve Maritime Academy ( in Port Everglades, Florida—home of the 140-foot training vessel (and raging-inferno-onboard simulator) T/V Gray Manatee—caused me to recently reevaluate my thinking on the physical fitness front. And it also caused me to develop a deep and, I trust, abiding conviction: If a bad fire breaks out on my boat and there’s a reasonable means of escape—me and the crew are freakin’ gone!

Yeah, okay. Maybe this seems extreme. Maybe one’s responses to a fire onboard should be more nuanced. But still, after suiting up in basic firefighting gear (heavy, steel-reinforced boots, insulated coat, insulated pants, thick, knitted balaclava, backpack-type, tank-fed breathing apparatus with facemask, helmet, and fire-resistant gloves) and then following 15 young professional firefighters into a blacked-out, red-hot, fume-choked, flame-licked Gray Manatee as part of a training exercise for handling yacht fires, I gotta wonder.

“You alright, Bill?” asked Alan Pelstring, the guy at Resolve who’d been assigned to see me safely through the extravaganza. “Drink this—Gatorade. You gotta rehydrate, man.”

I needed to do something about my equilibrium as well. I was dizzy, queasy. And from what my firefighting buddies were telling me, I was lookin’ a little pale. The giant, wood-burning, smoke-generating furnace at the Gray Manatee’s stern had done its job with gusto. My time inside had been disorienting, torrid in the extreme (with temperatures hitting upwards of 1,000°F near the furnace), and in the end, what with endlessly stumbling up ladders and through watertight doors in total darkness, enervating.

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“Jeeesh,” I observed, “I’m done.”

yacht-fire simulation exercise

At the start of the exercise a firefighter from West Palm Beach exhibits a superb level of physical fitness by lugging about 100 pounds of breathing apparatus (left) while the rest of his colleagues prepare for a yacht-fire simulation exercise inside the T/V Gray Manatee.

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This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.