Shipboard Firefighting Training Amping Up

There have been three significant ship fires in Sturgeon Bay since 2015, beginning with the Alpena that year, followed by the Burns Harbor in 2019, then the Roger Blough in February 2021. That 858-foot bulk carrier ship was in winter layup at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding when the fire broke out in the cabin area.

The Blough was the largest fire of the three, but the Alpena put the Sturgeon Bay Fire Department on a more progressive path when it came to training for shipboard fires – a type of fire that Sturgeon Bay Fire Chief Tim Dietman described as a high-risk, low-occurrence fire. 

Last week, the Door County Board of Supervisors authorized Door County Emergency Management to accept a grant from Wisconsin Emergency Management for $7,092 for shipboard firefighting training. 

The grant is a reimbursement because the training by a Virginia company took place in December 2021 and drew 70 firefighters from departments around the county and the states of Wisconsin and Michigan. The high turnout was a reflection of the rare, but needed training that’s becoming more important not just for fire departments along shorelines, but also for inland departments whose members may never have entered a ship, even without a fire.

“Because of the uniqueness of the training, that’s what drew them in,” said Dan Kane, Door County emergency management director, who applied for the grant. “This type of training isn’t widely available.”

The two-day training included classroom work about the challenges and limitations of fighting a fire on a boat: “You can’t just cut a hole in the side of a boat,” for example, Dietman said. The second day of training involved tours of ships at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, including the Roger Blough, to describe what happened with that fire and how it was fought.

Dietman happened to be attending some shipboard firefighting training when he took the call asking about the training provided by the recently accepted county grant. He said they also had training conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard about a month ago. 

“It’s progressing [that type of training],” Dietman said. “It’s something that was never really done, but the potential for something bad to happen is extremely high.”