Article Archive
Fire on the Water
Coast Guard revises marine fire fighting regulations
Volume 24 Number3

On June 1, 2010, marine fire fighting across the U.S. will experience a revolution. Under important new rule changes issued by the Coast Guard, all tank vessels carrying oil in U.S. waters must identify appropriate marine fire fighting resources in their vessel response plans as required under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90).

The Salvage and Marine Firefighting Requirements, Vessel Response Plans, (33 CFR Part 155) final rule affects all U.S. and foreign tank vessels carrying oil on U.S. waters. Such tank vessels are required to have a vessel response plan. The changes included in the rule clarify the salvage and marine fire fighting services that must be identified in a response plan; establish criteria for vetting salvage and marine fire fighting service providers; and set new response-time planning standards for each of the required salvage and marine fire fighting services.

The changes incorporated by reference National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards; require information in the response plan be consistent with applicable area contingency plans and the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Contingency Plan; and require adding a section on drills and exercises to highlight that salvage and marine firefighting components are part of the existing requirements for vessels holding vessel response plans. These changes ensure that appropriate salvage and marine fire fighting resources are identified in response plans and are available for responding to incidents up to and including the plan's worst-case discharge scenario.

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Allain serves as vessel response plan program manager with pervue over response plans derived from OPA 90. Industrial Fire World publisher David White interviewed Allain regarding the new salvage and marine fire fighting regulations.

DW: Is there any room to change anything in the rule or is it pretty well in concrete?

RA: It's in concrete. The time for providing input to the rule was when it was published as a proposal. That was back in 2002. After it was published, there was a comment period. Over the past six years, the Coast Guard sifted through those comments. We responded to them when we published the final rule (on Jan. 1, 2009).

DW: Do you think it's fair that six years ago we had the public comments and now we're going to put it into effect?

RA: That's something I really can't comment on.

DW: I've been in the fire business longer than I want to admit. I've been to two major ship fires. Successfully put out one; the other one we watched it burn out. I understand the total need for this because ports are basically protected by municipal fire departments. They may have a fire boat or two but all they typically do is throw water on it or sometimes a little foam. In too many cases they sink the ship and create a bigger problem than they had when they started. This new rule addresses the issue of a fire at the dock, in the channel and out in the open sea up to 200 miles. Is that correct?

RA: Actually, no. In most cases the rule only applies to 50 miles offshore.

DW: Here is my beef about so many things we regulate. I have no problem with having quality trained and properly equipped groups to do this job of fighting fire. I know you have an exercise once a year to basically prove the responders can do what is needed. Is there a document on how we are going to grade that exercise?

RA: That's a document that we are currently working on. We're working really hard to get a completed draft in the next month or so. Once we get the draft completed we're going to post it on the public docket so that the public is going to have a chance to look at it. This summer we are planning to have a public meeting at Coast Guard headquarters. We're going to make the document public about 60 days prior to that public meeting. Hopefully industry and any other folks can come and give us their comments to take under advisement. Because it is a Coast Guard policy document, we're not obligated to make any requested changes but we will take those under advisement.

DW: Now, the ship is the responsible party to have this plan?

RA: That's correct.

DW: Okay, I'm a ship owner and I have numerous ships that call at different ports in the United States. I have to have a plan that would show how every single one of my ships would be taken care of if it called at the Port of Houston, Seattle, Chicago or whatever?

RA: That's correct. But there are various ways you can meet that requirement. I would think that would be handled the way that vessel response plans are currently drafted. If you're a ship fleet owner, you have a fleet plan that covers all your ships - basically a template. Then any time there is an individual difference between the ships, it is specified in there. Each plan has a vessel specific appendage that becomes part of the fleet plan. If you have a fleet of 100 ships, your one fleet plan is going to get approved for that 100 vessel fleet. Then, contained within that plan, is an appendix for each vessel that has the particulars of each ship.

DW: Here's where it gets really confusing. Every year I have to have a full scale drill. If I have 100 ships that go to Houston, do I have to have 100 drills or can I have one drill that covers all those ships?

RA: You're going to be able to have one drill.

DW: How many ports will this cover?

RA: Every captain of the port zone in the United States. (In the United States of America, Captain of the Port (COTP) is a title held by the commander of a Coast Guard sector, usually a person with the rank of Captain. Captain of the Port duties involve enforcing within their respective areas port safety and security and marine environmental protection regulations.) DW: Doesn't this also cover barges that are carrying the right kind of fuel?

RA: That's correct. It covers tank barges that are carrying any amount of OPA 90 regulated cargo.

DW: Does that mean all the way up the Mississippi and the Ohio and everywhere else?

RA: That's correct.

DW: There's going to be a lot of fire fighting stuff bought isn't there.

RA: If you go through the public comments, the regulatory development team put out a survey a couple of years ago to assess the resources available to support this regulation. Based on the survey responses, we had an indication of what resources are out there. We actually spell that out if you look at that whole regulatory package.

DW: I won't get into the issue of if they are qualified. That's up to you guys.

RA: Actually, the qualification part of it is up to the owner and operator. It is incumbent upon the person who owns the plan to make sure the resource providers are adequate.

DW: So much fire protection in my world is usually paper products. I call them compliance plans, not based on reality.

RA: If you look in the regulation, there is a whole section that talks about the resource providers. There are 15 elements that the resource provider should meet. That section starts out by saying that you, as the owner-operator, are to insure that the resource provider meets as many of those 15 elements as possible. It is really incumbent upon the owner-operator, not the Coast Guard or other federal agency, to make sure that whatever resource provider named in your plan meets the standards.

DW: Now, let's say you've named the David White fire equipment company in Houston. Let's say I put together the pumps, foam, nozzles and whatever else you need. And in two or three years from now none of my pumps will start, there is nobody to maintain them, so on and so forth. Are you guys going to go through periodically and do an audit, or are you going to let this annual drill be the audit?

RA: It is the intent of our program to do verifications. How we set up that verification program will probably be similar to what we have had in place for the vessel response program close to 15 years now. Sometimes we will do random verification. Sometimes we'll send out a request for a provider to submit an equipment list and then we will request our local captain of the port to verify the equipment.

DW: Could a municipal fire department, say like the city of Houston, contract with ships and be the fire fighting provider?

RA: That's correct. That's provided for in the regulation.

DW: I want to compliment the Coast Guard. I think you did a nice job with a real challenging issue. As a guy who has been to ship fires, I know some of the challenges, and many people are not ready for them. Here is a real tough question. You say I have to meet the NFPA standard for marine firefighter. Okay. In most cases where it is a standard for firefighters there is a professional Pro Board certificate that you get after completing the training related to that standard. Are you going to require that the ProBoard certificate be issued or just a statement that I've had the required training?

RA: We are not going to ask for anything unless we conduct some type of verification. At the initial submission for the approval of a plan, we're taking the owner's certification. They are going to have to certify that their submission meets what is spelled out in the regulations. So the owner is certifying that their plan submission meets everything in 33 CFR 155.1010 through 4070. If in two or three months we want to do a random verification, we may ask that plan submitter, that owner-operator, to tell us how they chose their marine fire fighting resource provider, based on what qualification. Then it is going to be up to them to provide the evidence for why they chose Smith Fire Fighting Company over Brown Fire Fighting Company. They are going to have to say, "Here are their qualifications. Here is the training program."

DW: So you're not saying that it's required to meet the professional qualifications training, but it could be used to verify training, correct? My concern is the regulation is referencing NFPA standards related to marine fire fighting. Fine. In some people's eyes, to meet that NFPA standard you have to have the training by a certified agency as per NFPA ProBoard. Then the test is taken as per NFPA and then you get a certification that says, "I'm qualified to be a marine fire fighter." Is that your intent?

RA: The rule states that as the submitter for the vessel owner-operator, you are responsible for determining the adequacy of the resource provider you intend to use in your plan. When determining adequacy of the resource provider, you must select a resource provider that meets the selection criteria to the maximum extent possible.

DW: Here is where the complication comes in. The NFPA ProBoard only allows one agency in a state to be the delivery agency of their programs. There are some very good training groups or companies out there that will not be able to do training if you make the NFPA standard include ProBoard certification.

RA: I discussed this with the regulatory team and there is no requirement for ProBoard certification.? Section 4050(b)(6) asks that the resource provider has an ongoing continuous training program that meets the training guidelines in NFPA 1001, 1005, 1021, 1405, and 1561, show equivalent training, or demonstrate qualification through experience.

DW: Changing gears here, when you go into New York Harbor, if there is a ship fire, the Fire Department of New York responds with their fire boats and everything else. My experience with big cities like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago is that if there is a ship fire at the dock or in the channel or harbor, that is their ship fire. In your regulations you say the provider that is going to fight fire has to have an agreement with the local fire authorities. Who is the referee? Is the Coast Guard going to be the referee if the city fire department says "He's not fighting my fire" and the fire fighting company says "That guy is fixing to sink my ship."

RA: First of all, this regulation for salvage marine fire fighting is a planning standard, not an operational standard. It is a planning document. That's pretty clear in the preamble to the rule. There is no expectation that the plan is going to be followed exactly. There is an amendment to OPA 90 called the Chaffee Amendment that requires that the vessel response plan to be followed unless the Captain of the Port agrees that following it will hinder the response. If you go to the person in charge and say, "We have a fire fighting response provider who can reach the fire a lot sooner than a private one," or vice versa, then the Captain of the Port can give us a waiver under the Chaffee Amendment.

DW: That makes sense. Thank goodness someone in government has given us a little latitude to deviate from something in concrete. Chemical ships don't come under this law, right?

RA: That's correct.

DW: Say I have a chemical ship on fire. If the owner of the ship says "David White, bring your firefighters," there is nothing that prevents them from fighting the fire.

RA: As far as I know there is nothing.

DW: Because that chemical ship has a plan that includes you as a fire fighting agency, even though that is not required by law.

RA: That's correct.

DW: The Coast Guard has a requirement that if I use foam on a ship, say a crude oil tanker, it has to be Coast Guard-approved foam. The foam I use as a fire fighting company to fight a ship fire, does that have to be Coast Guard approved?

RA: I would say that there is nothing in this regulation that specifies that, unless the vessels using the foam are Coast Guard-inspected vessels, I don't think there is anything in this regulation that would prohibit you from using non Coast Guard-approved foam. I think the reason why inspected ships need to have Coast Guard-approved foam is to make sure it is not some type of corrosive that is going to be a problem in the tank or the surrounding space.


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