News 12 Exclusive: Inside the Coast Guard’s vessel firefighting training facility

There is new attention to the dangers of fires aboard ships after two Newark firefighters died at Port Newark.

Matt Trapani

Jul 20, 2023, 2:22 AM

Updated 331 days ago

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There is new attention to the dangers of fires aboard ships after two Newark firefighters died at Port Newark.
News 12 New Jersey was given an exclusive look at the United States Coast Guard training center in Cape May, where recruits are taught how to fight shipboard fires as part of boot camp.
“Firefighting can be extremely dangerous,” says Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Stevenson. “It's hot in there. It's going to be even hotter because that heat doesn't have anywhere to go.”
Stevenson says that if a fire is not contained properly, it can take down a ship. He says that fighting a fire inside a ship is a uniquely challenging and dangerous situation.
“When a fire starts growing and becomes fully developed, it will travel either out to the sides or typically up,” Stevenson says. “Once that boundary is affected, you have minutes before that heat transfers and potentially starts a fire into another compartment.”
Officials say that heat and smoke conditions can skyrocket inside the metal compartments of a ship.
“The heat will start to radiate outwards. Away from the localized point. And once that heat starts to spread it will start burning paint and warping the entire compartment. It will start to twist,” Stevenson says.
At the training facility, Stevenson trains recruits on how to put out fires on Coast Guard vessels. The lessons take place in the classroom and inside a simulator. These fires could occur when the crews are hundreds of miles away from the nearest help.
“If the situation is right and the fire wants to occur, it will occur,” Stevenson says.
One part of the simulator is meant to mimic an engine room on a Coast Guard vessel. The fire is digital and controlled by the instructors to simulate different conditions. The recruits use real water to simulate putting the fire out.
“I get to see people come in with no knowledge whatsoever and I get to watch their minds develop. You kind of start to hear the wheels turning,” Stevenson says.
The Coast Guard doesn’t typically respond to fight fires on other ships, but the Coast Guard is leading the investigation into the fire on board the cargo ship at Port Newark.


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