A major engine room fire is a nightmare for seafarers. Fire in the engine room not only disables the ship’s propelling plant but also leads to a complete blackout situation, which can result in collision or grounding of the ship.
In case of a major engine room fire on merchant ships, CO2 fixed fire extinguishing system is the most common method used for fire fighting. The chief engineer of the ship is responsible for operating the CO2 extinguishing system,after taking all precautionary measures regarding handling of engine room machinery.
There have been several cases in the past, wherein people have lost lives in the engine room not because of the fire but because of suffocation after CO2 was released in the engine room.
Suffocation of the crew combined with re-ignition of fire due to lack of air tight engine room has resulted in gruesome condition, as the CO2 system is the last resort for fighting fire and no more firefighting method is available after using that (CO2 system can be used only once).
The CO2 operator in-charge i.e. Chief engineer (or 2nd engineer in C/E’s absence) has to be extremely careful when it comes to following procedure to avoid fire from spreading or any casualty. Following steps are to be followed without fail for extinguishing major find in engine room.
1. On outbreak of fire, the fire alarm will sound and the bridge officer will know the location of fire. If the fire is big enough to fight with portable extinguishers, all crew should be gathered in muster station for a head count.
2. Inform the wheel house about the situation of the fire. The chief engineer should take the decision in consent with the master to flood the engine room with CO2 for extinguishing the fire.
3. The Emergency generator should be started as CO2 flooding requires all engine room machinery, including the auxiliary power generator to be stopped.
4. Reduce ship speed and stop the main engine at a safe location. Captain should inform the nearest coastal authority if the ship is inside a coastal zone.
5. Open the cabinet of the CO2 operating system in the fire station with the “Key” provided nearby in the glass case. This will give an audible CO2 Alarm in the engine room.
6. Some systems and machinery like engine room blowers and fans etc. will trip with opening of CO2 cabinet. Counter check all the tripped system for surety.
7. Make sure there is no one left inside the engine room by repeating the head count.
8. Operate all remote closing switches for quick closing valve, funnel flaps, fire flaps, engine room pumps and machinery, water tight doors etc.
9. Air condition unit of ECR should be stopped.
10. Close all the entrance doors of the engine room and make sure the room is air tight.
11. Operate the control and master valve in the CO2 cabinet. This will sound another alarm and after 60 seconds time delay CO2 will be released for fire extinguishing.
12. If there is a need to enter the engine room for rescuing a person (which must be avoided), SCBA sets and life lines should be used. Safety of personnel should be of the highest priority during such incidences.
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