By LCDR Doug Simpson, USCG | Fire Protection Engineering
Transportations changing. Although
moving people and their stuff from here to there has always been
important, transportation has never been more convenient or as
integrated into societys daily routine as it is today. Transportation
powers the workforce and supplies livelihoods. As the mobile population
increases, so will the importance of transportation capabilities and
An online scan through various U.S.
federal agency statistics reveals the same trend in all transportation
sectors: throughput of highways, waterways, airports, seaports and
pipelines is increasing. Even as congestion thickens, these sectors are
being tasked to deliver more goods more rapidly.
This challenge is being met through
expansion and the use of new technologies. In the maritime arena, ships
are getting bigger and faster. Ports are expanding where they can, and
when they cant, they are changing operations to leverage efficiency.
Regardless how the face of transportation changes to meet increasing
demands, the safe arrival of the people and things transported continues
to be a fundamental requirement.
Fire protections niche in transportation
rests in this requirement, and expertise will be needed to effectively
apply fire protection principles to transportations changing designs,
technologies and operations.
As an authority having jurisdiction over
U.S.-registered vessels, the Coast Guard Marine Safety Center reviews
the designs of high-occupancy ships for their compliance with domestic
and international requirements.
Since ships are basically floating buildings,
the requirements to which they are reviewed are remarkably similar to
building code: How a space is used drives its boundary requirements,
occupancy determines exit discharge component sizes, atria smoke must be
managed and the like.
However, a building that floats and moves obviously
introduces unique fire protection needs. Construction, exit discharge
and emergency responder availability must all be considered when
designing a ships fire protection.
Concrete is too heavy to make an
economically viable ship,so steel is typically used. Instead of the
three-hour separation one might find on a land-based, concrete
restaurant assembly, the most that is found on a steel ship is 60
On land, it is possible to discharge a high-rises occupants to
ground-level safe refuge away from the affected building.Not so on a
cruise ship, as salt water makes a poor substitute for a parking lot.
Instead of exiting to ground level, exit paths must lead to protected
refuge areas onboard. Since ships underway are further from assistance
than typical buildings,they must often provide their own fire-fighting
In the same way building code accounts for special-use
facilities, the Coast Guard has policy and regulations that address
unique design needs. For instance, high-speed passenger ferries are
often built using aluminum, which is lighter than steel, to quickly move
passengers along their commuting routes. Since it has a lower melting
point, aluminum must be carefully insulated to provide protection
similar to that of steel. In some applications, insulating the aluminum
can be tricky and unwieldy, almost to the point of losing the benefit of
its lighter weight. By implementing strict control of fire load in
appropriate spaces, fire growth and heat-release potential are
minimized, allowing for decreased insulation requirements and a lighter,
The past few years have seen the maritime sector implement
performance-based design. In 2001, the Coast Guard issued policy through
its Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 3-01 that allows
certain passenger vessels to use performance-based design as an
alternative to meeting the prescriptive structural fire protection
requirements contained in the Code of Federal Regulations.
Internationally, the Convention for Safety of Life at Sea1 (SOLAS)
Chapter II-2,Regulation 17, entered into force in 2002, allowing for
alternative designs to be evaluated and approved using performance-based
The Coast Guard has reviewed vessels using both instruments and
found that perhaps the most difficult (and beneficial) part of the
process is agreeing to the entering arguments. From identifying
heat-release rates to calculating response times, assigning mass
fractions to applying toxicity, it is this exercise that digs into the
first principles of fire protection and provides the most reasonable,
safe engineering analysis.
As face of transportation changes, the requirement
for people and their stuff to arrive safely at their destination
remains unchanged. Fire protection engineers in the transportation
industry have the opportunity and tools to provide creative, safe fire
protection solutions while helping the transportation system remain
flexible and robust.
LCDR Doug Simpson is with the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Center.
International Convention of the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974, as amended, International Maritime Organization, London, 2004