Emergency Procedures

Fire at Sea
  • Sound alarm (advice Master and officer on watch)
  • Muster alarm list to be followed, and operation order to be established
  • Close doors and stop ventilation
  • Localize fire and notify personnel concerned with the scat of fire
  • Identify cargo, dangerous cargo and substances in the vicinity
  • Analyse method or extinguishing
  • Analyse development of the fire and limit it by cooling
  • If necessary consider evacuation of the vessel and prepare all documents to be saved
  • Message to be sent to Company and if required, to other third parties
  • Once extinguished, cancellation message to be sent to all parties concerned
  • Enter all measures and actions taken in logbook


The best protection against a fire-casualty is the prevention and a vessel should dispose of a well trained and disciplined crew, disposing of adequate good working fire fighting equipment.

It is therefore recommended that during the weekly boat and fire drills, attention should be paid in properly explaining the working of the equipment and the proper use demonstrated.

Also from time to time a simulated fire-drill should be organised such as:
  • an engine-room fire fighting
  • a cargo hold fire fighting
  • an accommodation fire fighting
  • a galley fire fighting etc.
When a fire originates in the engine room, a boiler room or a hold, the first step will be to turn off all fans, to close all ventiIator flaps, skylights, openings, entrances etc. and to keep the burning compartment(s) sealed in order to make it as airtight as possible.

A very efficient fire fighting agent is C02 but careful attention must be paid to risk of suffocation and should not be used as long as human life is present in the area where the fire is developing.

Usually fires in a general cargo hold are more difficult to extinguish with C02 than fires in an engine room and it may not be possible to completely extinguish a deep seated fire at sea by the only use of C02 (or halons). However, by working on one or two the elements of the fire triangle i.e. by seating of the hold and using C02, which reduces the amount of oxygen, and by cooling off, it may be possible to keep a burning cargo hold under control until the vessel reaches a port.

Please note that C02 should be released gradually and that the instructions for the C02 total flooding should be followed, taking into consideration the volume of the burning compartment. Calculate the approximate free air volume in the compartment and compensate for the air volume contained in the cargo depending on its composition.

About 50 lbs of C02 are required for each 1000 cub feet of air in a compartment (equal to 0.7 kgs of C02 for 1 m3 of air) in order to obtain the extinguishing 40 % gas air mixture. As the gas is heavier than the air, the gas tends to sink down to the lowest parts of the compartment.

It has however to be borne in mind, that a fire in nitrates, chlorates and other substances rich in oxygen cannot be extinguished with C02 but only by water. When water is used extensively the vessel's stability must be closely watched.

It is important to localise as soon as possible the seat of the fire., e.g. by means of measuring the temperature at decks, bulkheads and in air and sounding pipes; if the seat of the fire is close to a bulkhead, steps must be taken to prevent the fire from spreading to the other side.

It should also be reminded that water must not be used for fighting fires involving vessel's electrical and / or electronic equipment.

It usually takes quite some time to totally extinguish a fire by means of C02 (up to 8-10 days). During such period hatches etc. must be kept closed and not opened for inspection until the temperature at the seat of the fire is again normal. Any premature opening for inspection could rekindle the fire.

Fires in accommodations and storerooms present an additional hazard on account of the use of modern materials such as polyvinyl chloride, polyurethane, polystyrene, polypropylene, acrylene, nylon, etc.

Real dangers are:
  • its capability to blaze up a fire
  • the generating of dense toxic and / or poisonous gases.

Blaze up Capabilities

In spite of the fact that all materials have been threaten with a fire retarding component, the material remains flammable.

The calorific contents of the various materials are mostly as follows:

Polyurethane               4.158 cal / kg
Polyvinyl chloride       2.311 cal / kg
Nylon                             2.520 cal / kg
Polyester                      2.520 cal / kg
Wood                             2.106 cal / kg
Coal                                3.258 cal / kg
Rubber                          4.284 cal / kg

Following elements will be of importance in case of a fire:
  • the thermic capacity: (chemical composition and method of application)
  • the form of the material : (whether foam or solid)
  • the nature of the material:(thermoselting or thermoplastic).
Of course the fire triangle must be complete for generating a fire, i.e.:
  • oxygen
  • flammable material
  • energy (e.g. heat, flame, etc.)

Generating of toxic / poisonous gases

Each material when on fire will generate fumes and gases. Plastic material however, at the time of thermic decomposition, will at the same time generate extensive fumes. These fumes and gases are dense and also toxic / poisonous to a greater extent than normal material.

Hereafter you will find the toxic products that may be obtained from combustible materials:

Toxic gas or vapour
Source Materials
Carbon Dioxyde
Carbon Monoxyde 
All combustible materials containing carbone celluloïd
Nitrogène Oxydes Polyurethanes
Hydrogen Cyanide Wool, silk, plastics containing Nitrogen
Formic Acid
Acetic Acid
Cellulosic materials, plastics, rayon
Acrolein Wood, paper
Sulphur Dioxide  Rubber, thiokols
Halogen Acids
Polyvynil chlorode, fire retardant plastics, fluorinated plastics
Ammonia Melamine, nylon, urea, formaldehyde resins
Aldehydes Phenol formaldehyde, wood, nylon polyester resins
Phenol Phenol formaldehydes
Benzine Polystyrene
Aso-bis-succins-nitril Foamed plastics
Antirnany compounds Some fire retardant plastics
Iso-cyanates Polyuretahne foams

Plastic materials which have been threaten with fire retarding components will generate more fumes than those which have not been threaten.

Great care must be taken when polyurethane foams have been used as this generates the very poisonous / toxic iso-cyanate gas.

Also Acrylic Fibre (such as used in some mooring ropes) generates very poisonous gases such as Prussic Acid.

1 milligram Acrylic Fibre when on fire generates 0.297 milligram CO and 0.260 milligram Prussic Acid. The use of C02 will therefore be of no use as a fire fighting agent.

Hereafter you will find the quantities of Carbon Monoxide and Hydrogen Cyanide generated for I milligram of each original material on fire.

Toxic gases produced
Carbon Monoxide
Hydrogen Cyanide
Polyurethane foam
Acrylic fibres
Cellulose (cotton)
0.505 – 0.590
0.031 – 041

All the above demonstrates that the best protection against such fumes is PREVENTION and the observation of all safety instructions.

It is obvious that all safety equipment should be kept in a perfect working condition.

Fire Fighting

The fire fighting agent together with the tactics to be used will certainly depend on the concentration and the types of the materials present, the free surfaces of such materials and the air circulation.

Several areas in the vessel will contain more plastic materials than others (radio-rooms, engine ­control rooms, accommodation, etc.)

A fire can be successfully coped with, at the initial stage, using the classic means and methods. An important fire will have to be dealt with by inert methods. Protein and synthetic foams will be used. When using water it is recommended to use the spray method (use spray gun).


The fumes of plastics have a characteristic smell such as Acid and / or Formic Acid. They are irritating the skin, by inhalation or to the eyes.

Therefore an individual oxygen mask should be used during fire-fighting.

It is of importance to know if the generated gases are heavier or lighter than air. You will find this information at the end of this chapter where the vapour density is given.

The use of such breathing apparatus must be trained at the occasion of the weekly fire and boat drills. There should be sufficient spare oxygen bottles on board.

By smaller concentrations, lighter masks could be used, i.e.
  • the use of air masks and / or air caps
  • filter masks with absorbent partridges
The last ones can be safely used for evacuation of an invaded area. It will however be required to use the appropriate filter. Therefore the ships command must be informed about the nature of possible gases in case of a fire.

There are normally about 6 types of filters.

The German normalisation (Drager etc. types) are as follows: 

Filter A: brown: Organic vapour and solvents
Filter B: grey:  Acid gases such as halogenated hydrocarbons and nitrous gases
Filter C 0: black centering: Carbon Monoxide
Filter E: yellow: Sulphuric Acid gases
Filter K: green: Amonia (small concentration) and hydrogen sulphid
Filter J: blue/brown: Hydrocyanic gas

When "S.t" is added it means that a dust filter is applied to the cartridge.

The table also indicates the IMO and UNO number of the Dangerous Goods Code where all required information can be found.

In an emergency a wetted handkerchief or towel could be used for escape purposes. At the initial stage of the fire, one can mostly make use of a remaining oxygen layer on the bottom, so crawling could save your life. However, if the density of the gases is heavier than air, this safety area could be quickly invaded by toxic gases.

All possible techniques in life preserving and fire-fighting drills will be a great help in case of a real emergency.

(air = 1)

Type Filter IMO UNO
Carbon dioxide 1.52 CO2 2B
1013 Suffocating in concentr.
12 – 20%
Carbon monoxide 0.97 CO 2B

toxic flammable

Nitrogen oxide 1.50 B 2B
1067 oxidizing
Formix acide 1.59 E 8
1770 toxic acid
Acetic acide 2.07 A 3/3
  acid flammable
Hydrogen cyanide 0.90 B 2B
1051 toxic flammable
Acrolein 1.94 A 3/1
1092 flammable
Sulphur dioxide 2.26 E 2B
1079 toxic flammable
Phosgene 3.42 B 2B
1076 toxic acid
Ammiona 0.60 K 2B
2073 toxic flammable
Aldenydes 1.52 A 3/2
1988 flammable
Phenol 3.24 A 6/1
1671 toxic flammable
Benzine 0.70 A 3/2
1115 flammable
Iso-cyantates 6.00 B.St.
2206 toxic flammable