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Old 07-18-2010, 11:47 AM   #1
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Received by email from sv PFM:

"For those of you who think that attending a firefighting course will train you to be able to handle all eventualities when away from the safe haven of land, please allow me to bring home the harsh realities of what really happens and how horrific and frightening a fire on board a yacht really is, what one should be prepared for, and hopefully how to prevent a similar incident" ..... (click on .pdf link below for full report)

Fire aboard a yacht.pdf
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Old 07-18-2010, 03:18 PM   #2
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I am shaking just thinking about this! I am also extremely impressed by John Watson's clear-headed approach to solving an horrendous emergency. Someone once said that our reaction to fire is primal, and overcoming that primal fear takes a lot of strength.

Will John agree to our putting it in the Wiki?

In one of our long stops where cruisers gather, a delightful cruiser organized informational gatherings of cruisers where a cruiser with useful knowledge from their "past life" gave a talk on the subject. For example, she organized a wine and cheese tasting party with a wine expert cruiser.

One very useful gathering was with a retired Fire Chief giving a talk on fire prevention, and Fire Extinguishers, on a boat. What has stuck with me all these years later is the necessity to check these fire extinguishers regularly. Checking for pressure - the gauge tells you if it's okay or needs servicing. But more importantly, he informed us, is that it is necessary, with dry powder extinguishers, to periodically turn over the fire extinguisher (once or twice a year) and loosen the powder in it. The dry powder will pack down, and if it isn't loosened it will not shoot out the hose effectively when it's needed.

Even though John and Sheila were only about 2 miles from rescue, they stuck with the boat, extinguished the fire, and salvaged their home. Good for them!
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Old 07-18-2010, 06:59 PM   #3
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They were really lucky, I think. Once the fiberglass of the boat starts burning things can go very quickly. Dave's sister does a lot of sport fishing; she was on a huge sport fishing boat during a tournament. The couple who owned the boat lived aboard, too, based in Key Largo. An engine fire started and though the boat systems were set to shut off all air to the engine compartment and had an impressive fire suppression system, something (can't recall what) malfunctioned/didn't work as it should have and the boat was a billowing cloud of black flames within 2 to 3 short minutes. No time to grab life vests, if people didn't have them on--they didn't have them on. They all jumped into the water and watched the boat sink down into the deep, deep water where it wouldn't have a hope of being salvaged. Dave's sister was standing next to her poles (multiple) and for whatever reason, she'd grabbed them before jumping. She tread water wondering what she should do--drop them or hold on to them

Luckily other boats were within a couple miles and could see the black smoke of the fire and came to their rescue. The story was in the news in Florida when this happened (mid 1990's) but for the life of me I can't recall exactly where it happened. No one was injured and they were all picked up by other boaters within 1/2 hour.
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Old 07-19-2010, 09:11 AM   #4
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[QUOTE=redbopeep' date='19 July 2010 - 04:53 AM;1279479577]

They were really lucky, I think. Once the fiberglass of the boat starts burning things can go very quickly.

Very very scary.

2am coming back from New Caledonia, my wife asleep below while I took the helm, I stuck my head through the hatch to check the radar only to choke on thick acrid smoke coming up from under the cabin sole. All I could think to do was get her out of her bunk and topsides ASAP then deal with the fire. To this day I have no idea of how long it had been smouldering as the helm position is a fair way back from the the hatchway. Getting my wife topside and making sure she was ok I went back down again and turned off the batteries which stopped it dead. Turned out to be a couple of wires leading up under a bulkhead that got rubbed together when we experienced some heavy weather passages resulting in some movement of the hull. I now hard sleeve any wiring going under bulkheads but I was just stunned at how quickly it happened. No flame but had I of been up forward or less alert for anyone down below it could have been extremely toxic.

That's not the reason why I'm writing this though, a far more worrying thing is the mention of a melted engine blower. We've all put them in, a small 12v blower with a flexible wire plastic tube to lead to an outlet. When we first purchased Mico I did the usual fossick around and discovered a big congealed melted black lump hanging from a couple of burnt wires directly below our gas locker. It turned out to be the engine blower. . I've not replaced it as we have a few friends who have also fried their engine blowers. We just increased the deck vent sizes and make sure they are always rotated into the wind. Has anyone else suffered an engine blower melt down. They are cheap crappy looking units so its hardly surprising they fuse but surely there must be some standards?

A couple of months back we got a call from a mate who asked if we wanted our old pen back to rent. I thought you had a tenant I replied to which he asked if I had been away, which we had. The week before a large motor cruiser went up in flames in the pen. Talking to the neighbouring yachts a while later they spoke of the massive flames that took hold in a matter of bare minutes. The flames were pouring out the stern and when they pounded on the hull to alert the couple sleeping below, to their horror they could not get them out through forward hatch because their tender was laying atop it and securely fastened down.

They did get the couple out unharmed fortunately but within minutes the vessel was beyond saving. See pic.

The wreckage was cleared away a week later and I think they are still debating with the insurance company the cause but I tell you what, I'm now super sensitised to fire and any hint of warm wires or smell of smouldering plastic and wire.

We did have a house smoke alarm aboard but it drove us insane whenever we cooked. We are now looking at alternatives.

Fire.jpg

fair winds,

Mico

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Old 07-19-2010, 04:31 PM   #5
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In my cruising logs I find that complacency is a common theme in things that have gone wrong for us. Although I believe that cruisers need to be optimists to venture out onto the deep blue sea, I think that we all need a bit of pessimistic paranoia to stay safe.

Luck helps, too.

A couple weeks ago there was a news report on TV of a couple found dead on their boat, apparently dying in their sleep. My immediate guess was carbon monoxide poisoning - temperatures were unbearably high that week (94+ F, 34+ C) and nobody in Florida doesn't have an air conditioner on their boat. Well, that's what it was. Here's the second news report.

"Autopsy results released for couple found dead on boat

By Emily Cassulo @ July 7, 2010 1:52 PM

Investigators released the autopsy results Wednesday for the Palatka couple found dead on their boat July 4.

The Volusia County medical examiner ruled that carbon monoxide poisoning killed Howard and Sandra Lupton, who anchored their boat overnight Saturday to Disappearing Island, a popular sandbar near Ponce Inlet.

'There was a generator exhaust leak in the engine compartment, which caused carbon monoxide fumes to build up and then enter the sleeping area where they were sleeping in the cabin through the air conditioning system," Joy Hill with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission told WDBO.

The couple's son and his fiancee were in the boat next to them. Their son found them unresponsive in their cabin the next morning.

Two key questions remain. Was there a carbon monoxide detector on board, and if so, did it malfunction?

Hill said they are still investigating.'"

That was the kicker for us. My smoke paranoia alone drives both of us a little crazy. Peter immediately went out and bought a combination CO/Smoke Detector - it's a home model, but since even those have to be replaced every five years or so, we figure that the humidity won't get it before it has to be replaced anyway. Do I sleep better? Probably, even though our generator setup is pretty safe and a CO leak is a remote possibility. Since it's odorless, how could we know if the impossible happened? Better to have a detector AND test it regularly as we're supposed to. So far cooking hasn't set it off.

We can't count on luck to keep us alive.
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Old 07-19-2010, 05:27 PM   #6
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What a scary story, they are lucky to be alive
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Old 07-19-2010, 06:01 PM   #7
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We have a very extreme carbon monoxide paranoia. We usually have three sensors hooked up but at the moment we have two sensors--one is the kind that monitors and gives you a reading in numbers, the other is the kind that just goes off in an alarm state. The alarm one is made for boat use. Interestingly, many of the alarm types aren't really all that sensitive. You want something that starts timing things at 30 ppm but it seems that many don't kick in and pay attention until 60 ppm or some cheap home ones are as high as a couple hundred ppm. You can get headaches and problems from prolonged (several hours) exposure to as little as 35 ppm so measuring it at low levels is important. Take a look at the chart on this page for info about it.

We can see CO levels between 5 and 20 ppm when using a nonvented alcohol 1 burner stove. I can "make it" go to 60 or more ppm simply by letting the fuel burn out--that last bit of burn is very CO intensive it seems. When the wood burning stove is going (burning wood or coal) it has never registered a number. Both our sensors are in the galley area. The third sensor is normally back in the engine compartment. We managed to smash it (oops) during install of some stuff and haven't yet replaced it. We're trying to find a better quality marine one than the simple alarm type.

Our extreme paranoia was reinforced when dear friends of ours almost died in their house due to CO poisoning. The wife didn't show up at work and wasn't answering her phone--her husband called me (at home) from his office and asked me to go to their house to figure out if she was sick or something. She was passed out in the kitchen. I could smell furnace flue gas and suspected CO though CO itself has no smell. I called 911, ambulance came, called her husband and he met the ambulance at the hospital. Half hour later, he calls me--says "is Mom's car there?" His 80-some year old mother lives with them and wasn't supposed to be at home that morning but even so, I go back over to the house (2 blocks from our house)--yep, her car is there. I go inside and walk around calling her name. Find her groggy in the upstairs bathroom feeling very ill and confused. Call 911, get another ambulance. They take her to hospital.

Their chimney liner had collapsed and flue gases were coming through the house wall. Both women were lucky to be alive.
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Old 07-20-2010, 01:10 AM   #8
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No fire but a big scare with AGM batteries.

Just after the engine had been unbolted and man handled to remove our propeller shaft our battery charge warning alarm began triggering intermittently.It was annoying but my thought was that it was the audible alarm malfunctioning for some minor reason. This was because the volt meter was registering correctly and indicating batteries were charging .

We were doing an overnight up the Malacca Strait. During the night I began to notice an unusual smell. It was not the tell- tale electrical smell and not that strong however it prompted me to inspect the motor compartment several times and check some main switches. There was nothing unusual.

Then early morning just on day light with the smell still present I happened to put my hand on a cushion that was on top of a compartment housing a bank of two AGM batteries. The cushion was hot. Quickly opening the compartment I found one of the batteries to be very hot. I immediately isolated the bank and removed the leads.

The battery was so hot I feared it could explode. Reflecting on stories I had heard of battery explosions in recreational vehicles, it seemed to me that such an explosion would be catastrophic.

My first instinct was to throw it over the side but I feared the movement could cause the battery to split or explode so I left it in place for a half an hour trying to judge if it was cooling.

Finally we got courage to lift it free as gently as possible and drop it over the side. We replaced the two batteries with a new set in Penang.

The history of the old set was not good but a failure of this type was totally unexpected.

1. Due to a switch problem they had been totally discharged twice in the previous 9 months.

2. While the voltage on that bank was down I decided that they would still be OK for some time.

3. In an effort to improve the voltage before leaving Darwin, Australia I had the two batteries "equalised" at a battery supplier. I did not notice any improvement after this.
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Old 07-21-2010, 11:09 PM   #9
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I think the carbon dioxide type fire extinguisher, kept outside the cabin, may be a real asset when a fire gets out of hand below. The smoke from a fire will make it hard to fight from within the cabin. By blocking all vents and hatches and letting off a co2 into the space below there may be a chance to save the yacht. Desparate measures for sure but indeed desparate times. I don't think I need to mention the fact that this stuff kills people so be sure every one is topside. I believe one needs to keep the hatch etc closed till the heat cools to prevent the fire starting again.

I'm certainly not an expert so welcome any critique.
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Old 07-22-2010, 04:37 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by danblu' date='21 July 2010 - 04:03 PM View Post

I think the carbon dioxide type fire extinguisher, kept outside the cabin, may be a real asset when a fire gets out of hand below. The smoke from a fire will make it hard to fight from within the cabin. By blocking all vents and hatches and letting off a co2 into the space below there may be a chance to save the yacht. Desparate measures for sure but indeed desparate times. I don't think I need to mention the fact that this stuff kills people so be sure every one is topside. I believe one needs to keep the hatch etc closed till the heat cools to prevent the fire starting again.

I'm certainly not an expert so welcome any critique.
Some ramblings, advice, and questions:

One of the great things that we can all do is set up a fire extinguisher so that it resides outside of the engine compartment with the nozzle into the engine compartment. Either nozzle or tube into the engine compartment. Further, ability to control air into the compartment is good. We're only halfway there on such a system--we don't have our engine compartment completely sealed off yet--that is a project for next winter. We did set up our engine compartment air intake system and have mounted a large fire extinguisher where it will reside with that tube going into the engine compartment. But, not all the way there yet.

When Halon fire extinguishers were broadly sold (pre 1994), we purchased them for our cars and home. We still have these. They have not discharged. In addition to the regular marine extinguishers required for our boat, we also have one large Halon extinguisher which resides adjacent the engine compartment. I am excited to see that there are new "clean" extinguishers becoming available (e.g. Halotron 1) and hope that soon we'll all be able to have such extinguishers aboard. Note, Halon is not legal to even have aboard your boat in all countries. It is here in the USA but I think not legal in Australia, for example. Info about Halon can be found here Info about Halotron can be found here.

At one point, in a prior life decades ago, our boat had a sealed engine room with a CO2 flooding system for fire suppression. We carry a large cylinder (about the size of a scuba tank) of CO2 (for the purpose of making our own carbonated beverages) and we've joked about how if we ever manage to get our engine compartment completely sealed up, we can get another CO2 tank to use for air displacement. Realistically, we're much more likely to simply invest in a Halotron system, though.

When you carry fire extinguishers aboard, make sure that (in addition to the marine extinguishers which are geared towards putting out oil/petrol based fires) that you have an appropriate type of extinguisher for bedding/paper type fires. Info on different types of fire/materials and extinguishers is available online in many places buthere's a nice little overview. We have a wood burning stove aboard the boat. We keep a large Class A fire extinguisher strapped to the bulkhead adjacent the galley and stateroom where a fire with wood, paper and other such materials is much more likely than one with oil/petrol or electrical basis. We also keep a big box of (clay) kitty litter on the sole adjacent the wood burning stove to smother the fire (in the firebox) or a grease fire on stovetop pot in case of problems. The use of the highly corrosive Class A extinguisher is not desired, so the kitty litter is a good choice if the fire is fairly contained.

Placement and type of extinguisher is important. Our boat is required to have 3 extinguishers (of the portable size we have) to meet USCG requirements. These extinguishers are best at Class B and Class C fires and nominal on Class A fires. We have the three tri-class marine extinguishers placed as such: one in the lazarette by the helm, one at the base of the companionway ladder, one in the galley (which is quite far forward). In addition, we have the Class A extinguisher on the bulkhead adjacent galley and state room (forward) and a Halon extinguisher adjacent the engine compartment (aft).

Do any of you have Halotron 1 extinguishers aboard? What about a CO2 system? How have you places your extinguishers? Would love to know.
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