USS Bonhomme Richard is the tip of the iceberg – it is time to commit to protecting shipyards during maintenance and repair projects

To keep vessels and shipyards safe, companies should implement the most technologically advanced fire safety measures to protect their workers. Each year vessels and shipyards are damaged due to fire caused during maintenance and repair works, culminating most recently in the events at the Naval Base San Diego.


Following the recent devastating fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego and previous fires at other shipyard locations in the US and internationally, Ramtech suggest that businesses need to make a firm commitment to better protect the vessels and shipyards they are trusted with during maintenance/repair projects.
Strict guidance already exists for a fire watch on shipbuilding and ship-repairing projects. Workers that are assigned as fire watchers are the first ones to protect other workers and themselves from disaster while doing “hot work” (welding, burning, riveting, grinding, or the use of a tool that produces a fire or sparks). Implementing a ‘Fire watch’ strategy carries the risk of human error – anyone can make mistakes, especially when under pressure. For instance, how long does it take a fire watch guard to identify a fire and raise the alarm especially if the flames spread undetected? In terms of raising the alarm there are concerns, too - guards are usually required to do this using an air horn, which is hardly an efficient way of alerting workers. Plus, whilst the fire is spreading, guards are required to hold their finger on an air horn to alert and evacuate a vessel full of people. Do they put themselves at risk whilst carrying this out?


John Harrison, Sales and Marketing Director at Ramtech comments: ‘’This year should go down in history as a turning point for fire safety for shipyards as a result of the devastation aboard USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego. The fire that erupted on that Sunday morning is one of the Navy's worst shipyard fires in recent years. At least 59 people, including 36 sailors and 23 civilians, have been treated for heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and minor injuries.’’


Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck said: ‘’Fire temperatures had reached up to 1,000 degrees, causing the mast of the ship to collapse and threatening the central control island where the captain operates the vessel. There were about two decks between the fire and the fuel supplies on board.’’


Because the ship was undergoing maintenance work when the fire erupted, its built-in flame-suppression system was inoperative, according to base officials.


It could cost an estimated $4 billion to replace the ship if it is deemed un-salvageable. The USS Bonhomme Richard was nearing the end of a two-year-long upgrade estimated to cost $250 million. It was being done so the ship could start being used to deploy the Marine Corps' F-35Bs in the Pacific.


What vital role does a temporary alarm system play in protecting ships during construction?

If a temporary wireless evacuation system had been deployed, the outcome could have been different; Ramtech’s WES3 Wireless Evacuation and Emergency system comprises manual alarm call points that are installed on site in accordance with the project’s Fire Plan. These call points are designed so that the system is interlinked, meaning that all areas receive the same audible and visual alert signal, even if the fire is contained to just one of them. Incorporating heat or smoke sensors into the system provides automatic cover 24/7, ensuring that the vessel and shipyard is protected even when personnel are not present. The WES system works on a mesh protocol which enables the system to overcome signal obstacles such as steel structures and other signal interferences, therefore offering advanced protection for both workers and shipyards. No wires or drilling into the vessel is necessary. An ability to add or remove units means that personnel in all areas of the vessel and shipyard receive the same audible alarm, ensuring that everyone present can evacuate to a place of safety.


WES3 CONNECT is a new component that brings enhanced features over the standard base station. These features include full 4G connectivity to enable off site communications; a large, color screen with new menus; and improved ergonomics via a new numerical keypad. REACT combines innovative wireless technology, cloud-based data, a simple-to-use mobile phone app, and a browser management tool to create a fully integrated, real-time emergency response system that can protect a site 24/7. This way, teams receive real-time information regarding emergencies and other alerts raised on site as they occur – not after a fire is already raging.


When a fire is detected – either by a person activating a manual call point or via the heat/smoke sensors – it triggers a site-wide alarm and sends an alert notification to nominated personnel. This enables immediate evacuation, saving lives, and rescue services can be notified at the earliest opportunity. That is important because minutes are critical.


For more than 30 years Ramtech has been the electronics leader of choice for innovative security technology. Ramtech is passionate about helping customers save lives and assets with customized safety solutions that go above and beyond basic requirements. In the event of an emergency, the WES3 range of products is the best way to ensure that first responders have the highest possible odds of keeping themselves and everyone else safe.

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