Resolve Fire & Hazard Extinguishes Smoldering Wood Pump Fire on Bulk Tanker in Alaska

by resolveadm on December 12, 2007

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Firefighters from Resolve Fire & Hazard Response, Inc. led a fire attack team from the US Coast Guard and a municipal fire department to extinguish a smoldering wood pulp fire aboard the M/V Star Eagle off the coast of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The fire occurred on April 8, 2005 at 1300 hours in the ship’s number one cargo hold. The Star Eagle is a 589-foot Norwegian flagged, open-hatch single deck bulk carrier that was headed for Japan.

It took four days to completely extinguish the fire. The cargo hold was filled with wood pulp, the final raw product before made into paper. The tough, cardboard-like sheets were baled together into wired bundles, packed 80 feet deep in the 40 x 80 foot cargo hold. The Star Eagle was built in 1981 for Star Shipping, a Norwegian forests products carrier and has nine holds with combined pulp bale capacity of 42,000 cubic meters.

Resolve sent a response team of three firefighters on April 9. Resolve’s responsibility was to make sure the fire was completely out, leaving the ship in a safe manner. Todd Duke, Vice President of Resolve Fire & Hazard Response, acted as Marine Fire Officer and Chief of Operations on the Star Eagle fire. “We met with the United States Coast Guard (USCG), local officials, and ship crew,” Duke said. Then we created an operational plan to begin temperature monitoring to determine the temperature of the cargo hold. Resolve utilized equipment and personnel to fight the fire provided by the Unalaska Fire Dept (UFD) and the damage control team from Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau, a California based 378-foot high endurance cutter, on patrol in the area to fight the fire.

Duke assessed the scene with the USCG, made recommendations to fight the fire, and provided a salvage plan. “Safety was always our first priority. We took it slowly, and the ship remained at Hog Island anchorage most of the time.” The attack team included Duke and two other Resolve firefighters, in addition to two firefighters from Morgenthau, and two firefighters from UFD. Resolve conducted a visual survey of the exterior of cargo hold #1, and a visual survey of the hold from the port ballast tank utilizing confined space entry techniques on April 10. Resolve conducted atmospheric monitoring of the port and starboard tunnels, measuring oxygen levels, explosive gases, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon dioxide. “We made sure the oxygen levels were safe for our personnel, and that the flammable gases would not create a bigger fire. Then we released eight more cylinders of carbon dioxide and continued temperature monitoring through the night,” Duke said.

Resolve continued putting more carbon dioxide in the cargo holds on April 11 to smother the still smoldering pulp. Duke’s team loosened access on the cargo holds for entry the next day. Then dock space was identified to set up operations and open the hold up, to completely extinguish the fire and remove all the burnt products. The Star Eagle was brought alongside on April 12 for another site safety briefing with the Morgenthau’s damage control team and the local fire department. Duke established a unified command on the bridge of Star Eagle, which included the USCG federal on scene coordinator, Frank Leckey, Resolve salvage masters, the vessel’s master, the chief of the UFD and the Morgenthau’s engineering officer.

In the spirit of cooperation, the UFD provided the engine and ladder company, as well as a medical unit. The Morgenthau damage control team conducted boundary cooling on port and starboard sides of cargo hold to cool the steel. The water supply was established with the ladder truck set to the #2 cargo hold. “We utilized compressed air foam (CAFS) and pumped the foam up the ladder pipe and down through our nozzles,” Duke said. CAFS was used because it has very little water in it. Wood pulp absorbs water. Upon swelling, it could have burst the sideshells of ship. As the small access hatch in the cargo hold was opened, no flames or combustion were observed and the atmosphere was tested. The small access hatch was replaced and a larger inspection hatch was opened, providing a better view of the area with char marks on the bulkhead, closer to where the fire was.

Upon observation, visible damage was present but only a few hot spots were detected. Then the hatch was safely lifted. With no visible flame or combustion inside, the hatch was taken off cargo hold #2. “We entered the cargo hold, checked the bundles for hot spots and then removed them,” Duke reported. The attack team checked the thermal engine temperature monitor as the bundles were removed. There was a 60 degree temperature difference between the outside air (25 degrees Fahrenheit with sleet) and the bundles (80-90 degrees Fahrenheit). Duke said the bundles were still warm two days after cargo hold opened. The warm bundles provided the potential for tunnel, where slow combustion can occur due to the slow smoldering generating heat in the middle of the bales. “We couldn’t be sure the fire was 100% out unless the bundles were disassembled,” Duke said. The USCG removed the damaged bundles from the cargo hold and placed them in a container on deck for transport to their final destination. About 100 bundles were ruined and removed from the cargo hold.

According to the USCG, the cause of the fire was determined to be clad welding in an adjacent ballast tank. At an impromptu debriefing to Dutch Harbor’s city council and other public officials, Duke reiterated that the team spent significant time dumping carbon dioxide before opening the cargo hold. “We wanted the fire out before opening cargo hold,” Duke said. The carbon dioxide soaks into the cargo and let the fuel cool down. It takes time to extinguish a fire, as the carbon dioxide displaces the oxygen. “We don’t want a reflash,” Duke said. “It takes time, even though it was a small incident.” Duke reported that everything went safely and according to plan with no injuries or problems.

Over 5000 ships are under contract with Resolve to formulate vessel response plans in the event of an emergency or fuel spill as required by the USCG under OPA 90. Resolve Marine Group employs a staff of 100 marine damage control professionals providing salvage, firefighting, wreck removal, pollution control, artificial reefing of large ships, and training services to the maritime community, with a majority of its operations taking place in the Caribbean. It responds to the highest profile disasters, including the 1996 search and recovery of ValuJet Flight 592, which crashed in the Florida Everglades. It was lauded as the most difficult recovery in the history of aviation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSA).

Certified by a host of flag states including the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the United Kingdom’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), Resolve’s Port Everglades based training center is approved by Det Norske Veritas (DNV) as a Certified Marine Safety Training Facility. Resolve brings real experience to its world class training facilities and offers a full marine firefighting and emergency response curriculum to professional mariners and firefighters around the world. Resolve recently expanded that curriculum to include onboard training for the crews of yachts, cruise ships and commercial chemical tankers. The company also has response equipment in Los Angeles to provide rapid response to the west coast based marine incidents.

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