They go through a lot of propane at the India Tango marine firefighting purpose-built mock-up, the M/V Fire Dragon. All those fires in the “engine room,” “galley” and “wheelhouse” have to be fueled by something and propane works well for generating big flames that can be doused with water and CO2.

Firefighting training

India Tango is the marine firefighting program at Seattle’s Fremont Maritime Services, which offers safety and survival training for commercial mariners as well as for some active duty Navy and Coast Guard personnel. The classroom sessions are held in the company offices at Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle, and the hands-on sessions take place nearby in a well-scorched conglomeration of old vessel superstructures and repurposed shipping containers.

Almost every week, students in fire-resistant clothing and SCBAs (self contained breathing apparatus) get up close to some of that burning propane and practice procedures that they hope to never perform for real. But the more real the practice, the better prepared they’ll be if and when they’re involved with a fire at sea.

The basic class, all of which is taught by an experienced team of veteran firefighters, both military and civilian, is a two-day affair with mornings in the classroom and afternoons at the Fire Dragon.

I spent a day this week with a group of 20 men and one woman taking a two-day basic marine firefighting course at Fremont’s India Tango program. After watching them struggle getting the SCBAs properly donned and turned on and then carrying hoses in a crouch through fake smoke while dodging real flames, I was thankful to be standing on the outside, observing, with my camera.

I came away from the day with a new respect for the art and science of firefighting. There’s just a hell of a lot to know, from the chemistry of the fire itself to the physics of subduing it with high-pressure water. It was also interesting to watch the professionals at work, especially in contrast to students struggling with SCBA facemasks for the first time.

India Tango and the Fire Dragon will be featured in a story on firefighting in the March issue of WorkBoat. I hope you’ll check it out.

Stay low.

With a degree in English literature from the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), journalism experience at the once-upon-a-time Seattle P-I, and at-sea experience as a commercial fisherman in Washington and Alaska, Bruce Buls has forged a career in commercial marine trade journalism, including stints at Alaska Fishermen’s Journal and National Fisherman, WorkBoat’s sister publications. Bruce spent 16 years as WorkBoat's technical editor before retiring in May 2015. He lives on Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island, about 20 miles north of Seattle (go 'Hawks!).