Marina Fires: Critical factors for minimizing loss

Posted on by RComstock
Marina fire at Compass Marina in Australia

Marina fires can be difficult and dangerous to fight; the real opportunity to minimize loss lies in prevention.

No marina is immune from the possibility of a fire. The risk of fire is just as real for a high-end megayacht marina as it is for a small, modest one. The key for marinas is to minimize their exposure to fire and the chance of it spreading through the facility by utilizing good management of fire safety.

There are a number of precautions a marina can take to greatly minimize their overall risk; however, no matter how gallant the efforts a marina may still one day find itself in the midst of a fire.

Response time, training, and infrastructure are three things that will dramatically impact the outcome of a fire and the level of damage incurred. Boat fires can be extremely hazardous. The materials and gases most vessels put off when burning are very harmful and cause the fire to burn extremely hot. Ask any firefighter what you can do to diminish the chance of a fire going from a single alarm fire to a multiple alarm fire, and he will say engage in proper pre-planning activities and training sessions.

Train your staff how to respond and encourage your local fire department to come out to your facility. These two things will greatly impact the response time and allow your staff and local firefighters to arrive on the scene with a sense of know-how, confidence, and a game plan.

Be sure the infrastructure you have in place is adequate for your facility. Part of a marina’s pre-planning activities should include evaluating the water supply, the placement of fire extinguishers, and the condition of the marina’s walkways.

Can firefighters reach the boat at the furthest end of your marina and maintain adequate water pressure? How close is the nearest fire extinguisher to any given slip? And lastly, what is the condition of your docks?

In more remote locations, access to an adequate water supply may be a problem. In which case, an alternative option is a portable fire pump with foam; these units have proven to be an extremely effective line of defense. If you are relying on a fire pump be sure it is placed where it can be easily accessed and quickly deployed.

Marina Fire Cart

A fire cart can be set up to utilize sea water (or other water source) and delivers a high pressure water jet with an optional mix of fire retardant foam.

Thick black smoke can cause a near zero visibility atmosphere creating a real safety hazard for firefighters on the docks. Are your docks stable and easily navigated? Will firefighters be able to access a burning vessel directly from your walkways or will they be forced to fight from land or rely on a fire boat?

Marina Fire_Concrete Docks

Firefighters at this megayacht marina in Florida were able to fight this vessel fire directly from the docks aiding in their ability to contain the fire as quickly as possible.

I’ve seen numerous pictures of docks after a fire. The evidence is overwhelming. When it comes to dock construction materials there is no better choice than concrete from the perspective of fire safety. Not only will a concrete dock survive a fire with minimal damage but it will provide a safe, stable platform from which to fight the fire.

Marina Fire_Concrete Docks 2

Concrete is one of the only dock construction materials that will not melt or burn in a fire.

Heat is a major limiting factor when it comes to the performance of metal frame and plastic float supported dock systems in cases of fire. Although the exact fire temperature will vary, it is not uncommon for vessel fires to exceed 800° C. At this temperature both steel and aluminum will begin to soften and experience a sharp drop off in strength as the material begins to change phases; similarly, the polyethylene shell and EPS core common in plastic flotation construction will melt.

Marina Fire_Aluminum Docks 02

A boat fire at this marina, caused the dock system to fail.

Marina Fire_Aluminum 03

High temperatures melted the polyethylene shell of nearby floats, severely charred the composite decking, and compromised the pontoon’s aluminum frame.

On August 7th, a yacht caught fire at Compass Marina in Queensland, Australia. A quick response by marina staff and local fire crews and proper infrastructure helped keep the fire from growing. The yacht sustained significant damage but remained afloat. The deck of the finger pier closest to the burning vessel was discolored from soot and ash but sustained no structural damage.

Marina Fire_Compass Marina

The dock shown above is where the vessel that caught fire at Compass Marina was berthed. The pontoon sustained no structural damage.

The advantages of concrete docks when it comes to fire safety are hard to deny. The proof can be seen in the study of marina fires around the world.