George Devereese, Senior Loss Prevention Executive at UK P&I Club, discusses how this important piece of apparatus is often overlooked and why it is important to have realistic fire training drills:
“With only five fires aboard UK flagged vessels over 100 GT in 2015, it is easy to see how training for firefighting can easily become a tick box exercise as the old saying ‘it will never happen to me’ comes into play.
“However, the exact opposite should be the case. Due to such rare occurrences of onboard fires, realistic training is of vital importance in keeping a ship’s crew prepared should the worst happen.
“One of the most vital pieces of equipment in a ship’s firefighting locker is the BA Control Board. However, due to an apparent lack of realistic training, this piece of equipment is often not understood or overlooked when conducting drills.
“The BA Control Board is a board from which breathing apparatus is controlled, and it should be one person’s sole job during a fire and they should be readily apparent by the use of a hi vis jacket with BA written on the back.
“The BA Control Board shows each firefighter’s tally, with the firefighter’s name, set number, cylinder pressure and time in. This enables the BA Controller to work out how long each fire fighter can remain on scene tackling the fire before he is relieved by another crewmember, thus ensuring a continued attack on the fire.
“The BA Controller must also be a close link with the On Scene Commander (OSC), usually the Chief Mate, to enable proactive communication to the Master, who will command the overall effort from the Bridge. Again, without knowledge of how his teams are progressing and when they are due to be relieved the Master cannot effectively organise the rest of the Ship’s Company for the firefighting effort or co-ordinate with shore side agencies for additional assistance.
“If this routine is not practised regularly, then positive control of fighting the fire cannot be exercised during a drill and certainly will not be controlled during a real incident.
“As important as proper BA management is the strict management of smoke boundaries. Although this is hard to replicate during drills if smoke machines are not available, it must be ensured that this is included during all drills.
“Once a fire has been contained, smoke boundaries are established to identify the furthest the team can progress towards a fire in fresh air. The BA Control Point should be set up at the smoke boundary and where re-entry is to take place, allowing the fire team to dress and do face seal checks at the fire locker and then proceed ‘off air’ to as close as possible to the fire.
“Once at the smoke boundary tallies are given to the Controller, the fire team go ‘on air’ and enter the smoke boundary, which is immediately closed behind them. This allows for positive air control and the maximum time for the fire team to fight the fire whilst the rest of the ship’s company remain in fresh air and at no risk of becoming a casualty due to smoke inhalation.
“During drills realism must be maintained and the OSC must remain outside the smoke boundary communicating by radio to the fire team.”
Below are key points to note to ensure operational effectiveness of BA Control and to achieve the successful extinguishing of a fire either in a drill or real incident:
- BA Control Board
- Fitted with a cover in good repair
- Clean and with no previous entries displayed
- Free from damage or signs of excessive wear
- Located in a prominent place in fire locker with BA hi vis
- Provided with a suitable waterproof marker
- Fitted with a standard analogue clock that is functioning and showing the correct time
- Battery to clock is changed every six months as a minimum
- BA sets
- Stowed ready to wear with straps fully extended
- Tallies attached to sets on the shoulder strap D ring
- Masks regularly inspected for scratches to ensure good visibility