Firefighter train on unique simulator to prepare for ship fires

One of a handful of ship fire simulators is in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville firefighters are constantly training, learning new techniques to fight all kinds of structure fires, even on board airplanes.

Now, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department firefighters will be equipped with the skills needed to handle a fire on board a ship should an emergency like that ever come up at a port or in local waterways.

About 300 Jacksonville firefighters are getting the opportunity to do the training on a new ship simulator at the Florida State College at Jacksonville Fire Academy.

It's a unique opportunity because this simulator in Jacksonville is only one of a handful in the country.

IMAGES: Simulator provides hands-on training

The alarm goes off and a call comes in for a fire on board a ship in the St. Johns River. Are firefighters ready? In most cases, the answer would be no. Most fire departments haven't had specialized training to safely deal with a major ship fire, but in Jacksonville, now JFRD is prepared.

"It's critical that our first responders have the training to respond to the emergencies they might face with the expansion of the port, the Panama Canal expansion, training in marine firefighting has become an issue nationwide and again Jacksonville is at the forefront of that," said Sheldon Reed, executive director of the Fire Academy of the FSCJ South campus.

The firefighters are training on this state-of-the-art maritime firefighting simulator in shifts. During the four-day, 40 hour training, they go through a variety of drills from the classroom learning about ships, tours of ships at the port and drills on board the prop.

"It's an extremely dangerous environment so we've come out here, we have a new prop we use now in addition to this we do some training at the actual port with real ships because our ports are such a big part of Jacksonville, traffic is so high," said District Chief Donald Blanton.

In one of the simulators, the group had to find a crew member trapped inside. They can't see a thing. They don't know where walls or stairs are. Everything has to be done by touch.

"In a ship, you're always going down, majority of the time, and a house you go in, and you're at the level of the heat or possibly below in say a two- or three-story house where, in a ship, you're going in and its like a chimney you're going in the hottest part and going down into the fire and so the elements are completely different," said Blanton.

The Georgia Maritime Task Force came to Jacksonville to train with the simulator, several civilian mariners and deck hands have done training out there as well.