On September 8, 1934, at 2:05 a.m., the SS Morro Castle had a fire on board off the coast of New Jersey. This was one of the first ships built after the adaptation of SOLAS and the Merchant Marine Act. Of the many discrepancies that led to this tragedy, it is well-documented that the crew’s lack of training, knowledge, and fear of the unknown led to this tragic event.
There is nothing more important on a vessel than crew and guest safety. To achieve this element of security while at sea, firefighting systems and life-safety equipment are installed and provided per regulation and code to keep them safe. The understanding of how to use a portable fire extinguisher or how the main suppression system functions fall on the shoulders of crew.
Make sure the crew knows how things work and if they don’t, take the time needed to show them. You can never provide too much knowledge, especially when the fear they have is not for the fire alone, but for the equipment that will save them from it.
Before we go on, let’s examine the formal definition of “fear” and “knowledge” from Merriam-Webster. Fear is “an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger,” while knowledge is “the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience.”
Over the past three years, I’ve noticed that there’s a lack of understanding on not only how to use safety equipment, but in many cases where the actual safety equipment is located on board. This lack of understanding stems from two different things — a lack of training and fear of the actual items there to save you. This training and knowledge needed (along with help conquering the fear associated with the fire equipment) is the responsibility of the fire services provider. It is part of the job to teach and instruct the proper ways to use and utilize these safety tools correctly, thus allowing the crew and guests not to fear the one thing that may save them in a fire.
Giving others the knowledge to use and utilize the tools that keep them safe is a priority. Make sure the crew knows how things work and if they don’t, take the time needed to show them. You can never provide too much knowledge, especially when the fear they have is not for the fire alone, but for the equipment that will save them from it.
Fire systems and safety equipment on vessels are vital in keeping all the other components on board functioning. They should be viewed as a priority and should not be forgotten or neglected. Make sure your fire services company takes the time to take care of YOU. After an inspection, I’m the one who must leave the vessel knowing that everyone is safe. Hold us accountable; it is our job to not only make sure the safety equipment on board is compliant and working, but that you know how it works.
People are the most important thing, and it is our job to keep them safe, always.
This article originally ran in the May 2021 issue of Dockwalk.