Though ships many seem like an unlikely place for a fire, fires can and too often do occur on-board. It is the responsibility of the vessel owner to ensure that measures are in place to prevent on-board fires which could injure or kill crewmembers.
The Jones Act, passed in 1920, granted seamen and their families the right to hold maritime employers responsible for any injury, illness or death sustained during the course of employment on a ship caused by their employer’s negligence. It is an employer’s responsibility to provide adequate fire prevention, detection and training to all crew. Injuries or deaths caused by an on-board fire are often covered by the Jones Act.
How Employers Can Prevent On-Board Fires
The best way to fight an on-board fire or explosionis to prevent it. Many on-board fires are caused by leaking fuel or other flammable chemicals on a vessel, especially on older ships that may have worn or faulty equipment. Employers have a duty to be diligent in inspecting and replacing worn equipment in engine rooms and any other place where fuel or chemicals could leak. Employers also have a duty to maintain properly functioning smoke and fire detectors in appropriate locations onboard. A flame detector uses light generated from a flame rather than smoke to detect a fire, and is especially useful in oil-fueled fires that do not give off a lot of smoke. Flame detectors should be used in boiler rooms and near fuel handling equipment. On the other hand, smoke detectors are especially useful in crew areas like the galley and bunk rooms where fuel fires are less likely to occur.
In addition, employers are responsible for providing crew members with education regarding on-board fires and training in fire protocol. Employers sometimes choose to incorporate a fire patrol into crew duties, since fire prevention largely depends on the identification of potential fire hazards.
Special Considerations for Fire Prevention on Commercial Fishing Vessels
The Coast Guard requires commercial fishing vessels to carry firefighting equipment, ranging from B-1 fire extinguishers to self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and fireman equipment, depending on the size of the vessel. Boats less than 26 feet long are requirement to have one B-1 extinguisher; boats between 26 and 65 feet are required to have one to three B-1 extinguishers depending on length and amount of machinery present on the vessel. Ships over 65 feet long are required to have fire extinguishers placed in specific locations throughout the ship and those with a crew of more than 49 people must have at least two fireman’s outfits that include SCBA, helmets, boots, and fire axes.
Employers must ensure their crews are protected from on-board fires. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an on-board fire, please contact an experienced maritime personal injury attorney who can help you understand your rights to compensation.