Firefighters from across Alaska converge on Valdez to learn about marine fire response

By Alan Sorum
Council Project Manager

Unalaska and Valdez firefighters at the Valdez harbor. Photo by Zac Schasteen.
Unalaska and Valdez firefighters at the Valdez harbor. Photo by Zac Schasteen.

A shipboard fire is dreaded by all mariners. When a fire occurs at a dock or a burning ship is brought into port, local fire departments are expected to respond. Since most communities in Alaska are located along a river or the coast, it is prudent to prepare for a vessel related incident.

Techniques used in marine firefighting are quite different than those normally employed in structural fires on land. To better prepare land-based firefighters for such incidents, the council developed the Marine Firefighting Symposium which is held every two years. This past May, the council hosted the eighth edition of this symposium in Valdez.

Thirty-eight firefighters from 14 different Alaska communities, ten marine fire and salvage industry representatives, and fire officials from Alyeska, attended the three-day event.

The first day provided classroom training geared towards a State of Alaska certification test. Two special presentations were made on liquefied natural gas issues in Alaska and public-private incident response partnerships. Crowley Maritime/Marine Response Alliance representatives presented a keynote address on the salvage of the cruise ship Costa Concordia. The speech highlighted just how complicated a salvage operation can get as industry comes into new maritime salvage and firefighting capability requirements.

Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises and the Southwest Alaska Pilots Association provided vessels as training platforms for the firefighters for the second day of the symposium. The City of Valdez provided one of their warehouses to simulate a roll-on/roll-off cargo vessel. The exercises held at the warehouse proved useful to participants on any vessel response, including oil tankers.

The last day’s highlight was a final exercise, a simulated incident that required all the participating squads to work together. The exercise simulated all of the actions from the initial response to final “overhaul,” when firefighters verify the fire is completely out.

Participants were tested at the end of the symposium by a representative of the State of Alaska’s Department of Public Safety to receive their state certification in marine firefighting.

Thank you to the symposium sponsors!

The Marine Firefighting Symposium could not be held without the significant support of industry and community participants:

  • The State of Alaska provided travel funds for many of the fire department personnel.
  • Crowley Maritime/Marine Response Alliance provided substantial financial support for the symposium.
  • The City of Valdez waived facility fees for use of the Civic Center.
  • The Alaska Fire Chief’s Association donated textbooks.
  • Polar Tankers provided operational support and sponsored travel for the Nikiski Fire Department.
  • Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises and the Southwest Alaska Pilots Association allowed their vessels to be used as training platforms for the firefighters.


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