Fires on large ships present a unique set of challenges for firefighters. The vessels are enormous metal containers that retain heat, and responders must use steep and narrow stairways to navigate huge spaces filled with machinery. In terms of size, the ships are essentially floating high-rise buildings.

“This is a lot different than normal firefighting,” said Battalion Chief John O’Neill of the PFD’s Special Operations Command. “It’s a lot tougher than it seems.

That’s why the PFD recently offered a five-day course in shipboard firefighting. About 130 firefighters spent four days in the classroom, followed by one day at the Navy Yard to put the lessons into practice aboard the SS Wright, a reserve aviation logistics support ship used by the U.S. Maritime Administration. Training included:

  • Hoisting hoses and equipment from the pier up several stories to bring them aboard the ship
  • Responding to a simulated fire several stories below deck in the engine room
  • Maneuvering hoseline around machinery and irregular spaces
  • Using PFD fireboats to draw water from the river and feed it to firefighters on the ship

PFD marine units cover a huge stretch of the Delaware River — from Trenton, N.J., down to the mouth of the Delaware Bay. This course was taught by the Tri-State Maritime Safety Association and funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Port Security Grant Program.

Over the past few years, the competitive Port Security Grant Program has awarded the PFD:

  • $383,000 to help build a custom-built fast boat. That vessel, named Liberty, is expected to be placed into service in the coming months
  • $661,000 for a second fast boat, plus this first round of shipboard firefighting training
  • $398,000 for shipboard firefighting training for another 240 members, plus new water rescue nets

“This equipment and training is critically important to our mission to protect the city of Philadelphia from all hazards 24x7x365,” said Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel. “We are thankful for the support from DHS.”