Saint John's firefighters will soon begin specialized training that will prepare them to tackle ship fires at the city's port.
Fire Chief Kevin Clifford said he has repeatedly pointed out over the years that his firefighters should have the training.
"I've said it before, we're not where we ought to be," the chief pointed out.
Two years ago, the department, along with the Port of Saint John, announced training would be coming.
The port authority contributed $75,000 toward a new training facility.
Clifford said the money was a big boost, and that Irving Oil also contributed to the Grandview Ave. Emergency Services Building.
It's equipped with a propane-fuelled fire simulator capable of reaching temperatures up to 640 C.
It, along with a smoke machine, as well as the doors and ladders found within a cargo ship, will help firefighters prepare for the event of a shipboard fire.
"The stairways could be steep, they could be straight 90 degree, your doorways are going to open differently," Clifford said, in the structure's dark hallways.
The idea is to familiarize firefighters with everything they could encounter when facing the real deal.
Clifford added that firefighters need to be prepared for the setting, because they can't chop their way out of a dangerous situation.
Clifford compared fighting a fire on a cargo ship to the challenges seen at a high-rise building.
"We don't simply walk in, we have to get on the deck," he explained.
That requires getting hoses up several levels — and inside a ship — all before allowing water through so the hoses don't get stuck.
There's also the consideration of ballast, so that pumping water on board doesn't tip a ship.
The theory behind how to approach these kinds of fires is available in textbooks, but Clifford said you can't beat hands-on training.
Heading to Virginia
Next month, two command officers will head to a site in Virginia to complete training on real ships.
That information will be used to develop a the Saint John curriculum.
The Grandview Ave. training facility currently doubles as a location to learn tactics for fighting residential roof fires and industrial fires, such as at the Irving Oil Refinery.
Captain Fred Bramston is a trainer there who is eagerly awaiting the addition of the cargo ship techniques to his lesson plans.
"I'm looking forward to using it for everything we can possibly use it for," he said.
Clifford said the department should begin training its firefighters for the new port skills this summer.
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