Marine safety issues and actions

Fire and Rescue New South Wales marine firefighting capability

Issue number: MO-2018-011-SI-04
Issue owner: Fire and Rescue New South Wales
Transport function: Marine: Other
Background: Investigation Report 346-MO-2018-011
Issue release date: 11 May 2021
Current issue status: Open – Safety action pending
Issue status justification:

The ATSB welcomes the action taken Fire and Rescue New South Wales but considers that further action is required to adequately address the safety issue.

Safety issue description

The capability of Fire and Rescue New South Wales to effectively respond to a shipboard fire in Port Kembla, was limited by:

  • a lack of specialised marine firefighting expertise
  • outdated marine training for firefighters
  • relative inexperience in shipboard firefighting associated with the rarity of major shipboard fires
  • an absence of marine-specific firefighting resources and aids for use by first responders.

Proactive action

Action number: MO-2018-011-NSA-016
Action organisation: Fire and Rescue New South Wales
Date: 11 May 2021
Action status: Monitor

On 18 February 2021, Fire and Rescue New South Wales (FRNSW) advised the ATSB of the following safety action, as summarised below, taken to improve marine firefighting awareness and capability since the Iron Chieftain incident:

  • FRNSW currently has a representative on the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) Working Group for Marine Firefighting. FRNSW is working with all member agencies to produce a nationally consistent approach and, when completed, will release a Standard Operations Guideline (SOG).
  • FRNSW has undertaken two training exercises with the Royal Australian Navy.
  • FRNSW has a schedule of familiarisation and training visits with Svitzer Tugs at Port Kembla with the goal of improving interoperability. In addition, a tabletop exercise (Exercise Whale two) was conducted as a follow-on from Exercise Whale.
  • FRNSW, through AMSA, was involved in a ‘policy sprint’ workshop to commence the development of a national framework for maritime emergencies. FRNSW continues to be the Hazardous Noxious Substance response team for AMSA, although training has been on hold due to COVID‑19.
  • FRNSW, in collaboration with NSW Maritime (Transport for NSW), have reviewed and updated the Memorandum of Understanding in Relation to Hazardous Materials Incidents on Inland and State Waters.

In addition, FRNSW commented that the Iron Chieftain fire was safely extinguished and the incident brought to a safe conclusion with no loss of life, major injury to crew or firefighters, escape of pollutants into the environment or damage to port infrastructure despite FRNSW not being the initial combat agency.

Additionally, FRNSW stated that, while not a marine firefighting specialist, the use of subject matter experts (as denoted within the Australian Inter-Service Incident Management System (AIIMS)), from the vessel, port authorities, marine consultants and the Victorian Metropolitan Fire Brigade’s Marine Command, assisted firefighting efforts with instantaneous specialist advice and input into the formulation of Incident Action Plans (IAP).

Finally, FRNSW advised that, although located on a vessel, the fire was similar to ones that FRNSW routinely attend that involve fire in underground basements and confined spaces, involving deep seated rubber fires and the use of breathing apparatus, atmospheric monitoring and foam. FRNSW was therefore able to adapt its many Standard Operational Guidelines to safely respond to and conclude this incident.

ATSB comment:

Date: 11 May 2021

The ATSB acknowledges the safety action taken and proposed by Fire and Rescue New South Wales (FRNSW) in response to the ATSB investigation. However, the ATSB considers that further safety action by FRNSW, in particular, action potentially resulting from work underway through the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) is necessary to address the safety issue. Therefore, the ATSB issues the following safety recommendation to FRNSW.

Safety recommendation

Action number: MO-2018-011-SR-014
Action organisation: Fire and Rescue New South Wales
Date: 11 May 2021
Action status: Released

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau recommends that Fire and Rescue New South Wales takes further action to address the limited marine firefighting capability in Port Kembla due to the lack of specialised marine firefighting expertise, experience, updated training and resources.

Additional correspondence

Response date: 05 August 2021
Response from: Fire and Rescue New South Wales
Action status: Monitor
Response text:

Fire and Rescue New South Wales (FRNSW) accept the ATSB recommendation and will continue to work towards a nationally consistent approach to marine firefighting as a member of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) Working Group for Marine Firefighting. FRNSW will consider all recommendations that result from the work of the AFAC working group particular those that relate to policy and training.

FRNSW maintains the position that it is not the lead or combat agency under relevant legislation, plans or guidelines. FRNSW will seek to work closely with the State Emergency Management Committee, Transport for NSW and Port Authority of NSW to establish appropriate protocols while noting that FRNSW is unwilling to accept the role of lead or combat agency in circumstances where it is not legislated, endorsed by Government or appropriately resourced.

In the interim, FRNSW will:

  • participate in a case study workshop of the Iron Chieftain fire, led by subject matter experts to develop Incident Managers' expertise
  • embed marine firefighting techniques in Incident Management Training
  • encourage and continue to participate in Port Authority training exercises that involve marine incidents to increase marine firefighting experience
  • work closely with the State Emergency Management Committee, Transport for NSW and NSW Port Authority to establish appropriate protocols [with regard to undertaking the role of combat agency or lead agency in circumstances where it is not legislated, endorsed by Government or appropriately resourced]
  • continue to consult and collaborate with NSW Port Authority to update relevant plans and MOUs in relation to shipboard fires
  • continue to assist the Port Authority as a support agency and member of a multi­agency Incident Control team as required.

FRNSW will write to the ATSB by 7 February 2022 to advice on the progress of the above initiatives.

ATSB comment date: 03 November 2021
ATSB comment:

The ATSB acknowledges and welcomes the continuing safety action by Fire and Rescue New South Wales (FRNSW), in particular work underway through the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) which has the potential to address the identified safety issue. The ATSB will continue to monitor the progress of safety action underway and will re-assess the safety issue following the anticipated FRNSW update in February 2022.

Last update 11 May 2021