STCW 95 Day 2: Baptism by fire
As promised, day 2 of our STCW 95 course at the University of Trinidad and Tobago was all practical. After getting the class of 11 suited up in complete fire fighting kit (pants, jackets, boots, gloves, helmets), we made our way outside. In spite of the fact that the day was a bit overcast and thus a tad cooler than some others, we were still all perspiring like crazy. The school wisely had cases of water available for us and encouraged us to drink continually.
We started out by learning how to carry, deploy and roll up hoses, how to connect the nozzles to them and also how to properly hold onto them when fighting fires. After that bit, we moved right into some live fire exercises, starting by putting them out using the four basic types of fire extinguishers (water, dry powder, foam and carbon dioxide). The really big fires came after this. As teams (prior to this the class was separated into 3 teams with my friend Scott and I being split up) we used the large hoses to approach and extinguish a big diesel fire. Exciting, and hot!
Following a welcome lunch break, the really challenging stuff started. This was the “smoke house” section of the course. The university has built a two-tier fire fighting room out of two shipping containers. There are walls and locking doors inside separating it into sections, ladders to go from one level to the other and even a tunnel to crawl through. When a fire is lit inside , and the doors are closed, visibility is, without exaggeration, zero. The only way to move through the structure is by feel. We had been taught on day 1 to feel the walls with the back of our hand and also to use a shuffle step so as to not trip. If all this wasn’t enough, we were all wearing Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (a full face mask similar to SCUBA). I am not ashamed to admit that I felt a few pangs of claustrophobia the first time in there all kitted up with a fire burning and Scott shared that he felt similarly. We both worked through that though and did what we needed to do. After learning how to safely open doors, our teams had to navigate through the smoke house, again by feel alone, and leave through a predetermined exit. In our case, we had to crawl through the tunnel at the far end. None of the three teams did this exercise flawlessly but in the end, we all got it done.
Much respect to those who fight fires for a living. Even the basic training that we completed was challenging. Fighting real out-of-control fires on a regular basis is scary stuff!
There are plenty more photos from the training on our Facebook Page!