Thursday, January 29, 2009


Tomorrow marks the end-day of the three weeks of training that I've been taking at my union school. Cargo Handling, SAR, and, in 24 hours, firefighting, are hereby knocked off of my to-do list. saturday morning I'll take a leisurely 430-odd mile drive home.
Today was our day to go get heated up on the fire grounds. Lots of good stuff to do- exercises, smoke, fire, and water=fun. Plus the weather, which was idyllic- cool, sunny, and a gentle breeze- perfect for firefighting.

One real tragedy in the American maritime world is that the diversity and level of available live-fire training has declined substantially for mariners. Originally, I had to take a Basic safety Training course which included three excellent days of firefighting exercises. I did this out on Cape Cod, and it is required of every prospective oceangoing mariner before he can get his first job on a ship.
Up until about 2 years ago, in order to advance in licensure, a mariner would have to take an Advanced fire fighting course, which includes classwork on pre-fire planning, tactical training, and some train-the-trainer practice to prepare the participant to take a leadership role on board ship.

I've been told that the maritime schools began to compress these courses into a combined basic/advanced class, which is chock full of information, sort of, and short on time. Further, I've been told that my school had to switch to this format to remain competitive. So it goes.

The class has been excellent, in my opinion. We have a world-class author and experienced firefighter as the instructor, and our one day at the fire ground was a nice refresher. STILL, though, I think a disservice has been done to the mariner by compressing this training. Something had to give, and the stakeholder is the one to suffer for it.

Oh, before I go on, have a look for yerself, then:

Cool, huh?

For those of you who have been there, these pictures are pretty familiar, as the training is standard at most of these classes. It's really neat to sit in the engine room as it heats up from a fire, and to learn that the air is around 400 degrees.... good insulation in those turnout coats and pants!

Anyhow, to recap on what I said earlier, the whole point and purpose of this training is to give us a little lifeline should the need arise to save our own asses at some point, whether by putting out a small fire, or simply in buying enough time to get out of a bad situation... either way, the onus should be on the curriculum design, in terms of giving us the best value for our money, coupled with satisfying the training requirments set down under law. In this specific case, the one-week class just doesn't feel like enough for some of the guys I trained with today- and for myself, too. We lost too much time in reviewing the basics, and didn't get the time to really get much depth in tactics and such. The maritime schools have satisfied the US coast guard and the IMO in terms of satisfying the training requirements, but the need to dumb down the course in order to make it inclusive and able to fit into one week has really made a bit of a hash out of the situation. It's an important subject, and worthy of being expounded upon. I think it's great that the schools are happy with what they've done, but I'm certainly not going to pat anyone on the back for cutting my training requirements in this case.


Anonymous said...

Excellent point. Sadly, yours seems to be a rare point of view when it comes to training. Most people don't seem to care. They just want to get it over with as quickly and painlessly as possible.

When the STCW '95 Basic Safety Training requirements were "imposed" on us the howling started immediately, despite the fact that, for the very first time, the training (most of it, anyway) was aimed at giving us a better shot at surviving a serious maritime casualty (medical, fire, abandoning ship, etc.) and going home at the end of the hitch in one piece. Ironically, with all the bullshit training that we've been subjected to, almost no one saw that BST was different for once.....

bigsoxfan said...

I took the firefighting class at Mitags in '00 as part of my sctw'95. The instructers mostly Baltimore city guys and the mitags staff (Don Merkle) in particular were most knowledgable and excited in passing on their knowledge. The hands on stuff wasn't all that. Advancing on a controlled gas flame with a hose team was lame, but the smoked filled building with dodgy exits made for a mostly realistic scenerio. yeah, it's not a fire on a ship, but I found peace of mind when faced with the real thing (Think; happy place, not the smoked filled hall, getting smaller and smaller with the hidden trap door) It is what it is.

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