How do these unique vessels extinguish blazes out at sea?
Fireboats, just like land-based fire engines, specialize in redistributing water on a large scale from a store (such as those delivered through fire hydrants) onto a large blaze. Critically a major distinction is that while terrestrial fire engines must be physically attached to a water source via a large tube, fireboats do not, as they are installed with pumping mechanisms that can draw seawater directly from their native environment.
The pumps themselves are installed within the base of the fireboat’s hull, sucking water into the vessel and depositing it into a system of internal pipes and valves for redistribution. On average, the pumps can take in upwards of 37,854 liters (10,000 gallons) of water per minute into the boat’s water-firing nozzles. But the current largest fireboat in the world – the Ranger 4200-class Three Forty Three – can pump up to a staggering 189,270 liters (50,000 gallons) per minute!
The distribution nozzles, which are also known as water cannons, are controlled either manually by the firefighters -with the individual nozzles swiveling on a platform – or remotely from the control station through a series of hydraulics. The pressure the water is fired at is also dictated from the control room and can be varied to deliver a wide variety of arcs and spray patterns best suited to the j ob at hand.
In order for a fireboat to effectively put out ship fires – or indeed those in a harbour or on coastline – and rescue anyone who’s trapped, it needs to be able to position itself so that both are easily achieved. This is obviously handled in the first instance by steering it effectively – hence the raised control station – however it’s also aided by an internal ballast system.
The ballast system enables the fireboat to raise or lower itself according to the deck level of the stricken ship, creating better firing lines from its cannons and allowing, where possible, for evacuees to board directly from the other vessel. The addition of on-board lifeboats and diving equipment allows for traditional ferrying operations too, in situations where close positioning of the fireboat is not possible.
Despite their name, fireboats do much more than putting out fires, operating not just as marine fire engines, but also as ambulances and anti-terrorism units. The latter role has grown specifically over the last decade and, as such, modern fireboats are installed with an advanced suite of detectors that can sweep for and pick up signs of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive agents in the local atmosphere. To protect the crew in the case of a foreign agent being detected, the control room has its own integrated air supply, which is screened continuously by a series of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.
On a final note, depending on the country of origin, certain fireboats may also be configured for ice-breaking operations. This essentially requires the vessel to be built with a double hull, with both hull layers strengthened at the bow, stern and waterline with extra steel plates and the interior augmented with a number of watertight compartments.
Top 3 fireboat showdown
Phoenix – With a displacement of 1 146 tons and able to pump up to 24,226 litres (6,400 gallons) of water at a high pressure, the Phoenix is a formidable firefighter.
Three Forty Three – Blowing all rivals out of the water, this 500-ton firefighting beast can pump 189,270 litres (50,000 gallons) of water a minute.
William Lyon Mackenzie – The MacKenzie delivers a displacement of 200 tons and the ability to not only tackle fires but also smash through pack ice.