Last month saw the death, at the great age of 99 years, of Dr. Frank Rushbrook, who during his long life made a major contribution to marine safety and in particular, the prevention and containment of fire aboard ship. As a senior fire officer stationed near London’s docks, periodically involved in ship fires and once heroically preventing a ship on fire capsizing by diving into it and opening scuttles to evacuate water, he became an authority on ship fires, developing in his own fire station in East London a highly effective specialist fire safety course for merchant navy officers that was subsequently copied in many other parts of the world.

Returning to Scotland, he wrote important books on the avoidance and containment of ship fires, still relevant today, and designed a ground-breaking training simulator in Leith, with a life-size dummy ship in which fire officers and ship personnel could be trained in real fire situations. He was highly influential at the International Maritime Organization, with the writing of the fire safety elements of SOLAS. His work clearly lives on.

Had he been alive, Dr. Rushbrook might have been saddened by a message given last week by the Braemar Salvage Association’s Regional Director of Far East Operations, Graeme Temple, who suggested that lessons are still not being learned when it comes to the prevention of engine room fires. Following a review of incidents taking place last year, Mr. Temple said that the industry is still experiencing far too many unnecessary casualties. In a significant number of these engine room fires, flammable liquids had found their way onto hot spots in engine rooms. These, he said, were easy to identify, using thermal imaging photographs, where the defects that gave rise to the fires could be clearly seen.

Mr. Temple pointed out the need to detect potential problems earlier to ensure a fast and efficient first response, noting that a ship’s crew has only limited resources to prevent a problem escalating and a fire getting out of hand. Apart from the obvious risk to life, should a fire break out in close proximity to the thousands of litres of flammable liquids circulating inside pipe systems in any modern engine room, the consequences will usually be serious. Heat damage, firefighting effort damage, acid residues from burned plastic, soot cleaning and painting all add up to costs that will be hard to control, even if the fire is extinguished.

In particular, Mr. Temple suggested that recent experience pointed to the continuing neglect of areas where flammable liquids can escape from high pressure, low pressure fuel, lubricating, purifier, and fuel valve cooling systems. Both IACS rules and SOLAS regulations point to the need for all surfaces above 220 degrees C must be insulated or protected to prevent ignition of flammable fluids.

He emphasised the role of basic maintenance in preventing these fires, saying that engine room crew should carry out regular inspections of pipes and associated fittings. He noted that brackets and lagging should be refitted after maintenance and leaks required to be repaired quickly, before a drip became a spray that could potentially ignite. Spares for high pressure fuel pipes should be available and leakage alarms tested regularly. Prevention, he said, was “as straightforward as that”.

Author: The Watchkeeper                                    Source: BIMCO