Fighting fires at sea: How the SCDF trains for incidents in the waters
SINGAPORE: Battling flames gets harder - and more dangerous - when you're on a ship out at sea.
That is why marine firefighters train on a ship simulator at the Marine Fire-Fighting and Rescue Training Facility, which can realistically replicate a real-life incident.
Marine fires and rescues are just some of the incidents the Singapore Civil Defence Force's (SCDF) Marine Command Force Operation is specially trained to handle. It responded to 10 such emergencies last year and also in 2016 – the highest number since the division was set up nearly six years ago.
“In a land scenario, when the going gets tough, they (firefighters) can always exit the building and run to safe ground,” said Major Neo Jia Qi, commander of the West Coast Marine Fire Station. “However, out at sea, the only place they can stay safe is a floating platform, such as a floating vessel. So there are actually very (few) safe places.”
Including the West Coast and Brani Marine Fire Stations, the Marine Command has about 200 personnel, including support staff. Marine firefighters are specially selected and have to undergo an additional five-week training programme on top of their firefighting and rescue training to learn to handle such incidents.
Warrant Officer 1 Chan Kim Mun, marine section commander of the West Coast Marine Fire Station, said: “We have to start with hauling of equipment before we can even begin operations on board the vessel. After hauling all the equipment, which will take at least 20 minutes, our guys will already be exhausted. So with that limited amount of manpower, we have to acclimatise and manage the operation as best as we can.”
IN THE SHOES OF A FIREFIGHTER
I spent a day at the training facility to find out just how challenging the job is.
Just putting on the firefighting suit was enough to make me sweat from the heat. It was also a challenge getting used to the weight of the breathing apparatus, which was about 21kg.
There was also the difficulty of getting used to breathing with the mask, as well as communicating and taking instructions.
As for the firefighting itself, it was exhilarating, extremely hot, tiring and scary all at the same time.
Besides fires, marine firefighters also have to deal with chemical attacks on board ships. This requires them to suit up as well, in a slightly different way.
The red high-performance suit offers a high level of protection from direct exposure to chemical agents, and is worn by personnel who need to remove a chemical agent source.
Those wearing the grey chemical agent suit, which offers skin and respiratory protection in contaminated environments, deal with search and rescue, and casualty conveyance.
Victims are brought to the men in white light decontamination suits, who wash down casualties. This was the outfit I tried on.
Besides being drenched in sweat again, I found it hard to wash down someone while wearing a layer of protective wear. My sense of control, when trying to cut a casualty’s outfit and spray it with water, was inhibited because of the rubber gloves. In a crisis, trying to keep calm while doing all this would be a big challenge.
As part of their training, marine firefighters also have to conquer obstacles. One of them is a 7.4m ladder climb, which helps them get used to climbing up the ships. This was not hard, but only because I had a harness on, and the ship was stationary instead of out at sea.
Finally, in the event one needs to abandon ship, there's also a confidence jump – a 4.5m leap into a 9m-deep pool. All this to ensure marine firefighters can cope with incidents swiftly and effectively.