2016-09-15 / Front Page

Learning to Battle Megafires

AIG Offers to Pay for Future Fireboat Training
By Olga Enger

Newport firefighters discuss tactics to minimize damage in the event of a marine incident. (Photo courtesy of AIG Private Client Group) Newport firefighters discuss tactics to minimize damage in the event of a marine incident. (Photo courtesy of AIG Private Client Group) In recent history, Newport has not experienced a major yacht fire, and the insurance company AIG is footing the bill to preserve that track record for the city and its clients.

“On a given day, Newport Harbor has a billion dollars’ worth of boats in its harbor, and AIG insures many of them,” said Carl Lessard, the company’s yacht loss prevention specialist and program coordinator. AIG’s Private Client Group insures 38 percent of the world’s 200 largest boats, he explained.

Because a yacht fire has different characteristics than a land-based fire, the insurance company has developed a training program to prepare firefighters to limit losses, save lives, and prevent harmful environmental impacts of sunken vessels. AIG teamed up with Resolve Maritime Academy, a leader in yacht and shipboard firefighter training, and the Newport Shipyard to host a two-day training session, which took place Sept. 13 and 14, just as the 46th annual International Boat Show arrived in town on Thursday.

The program included a class- room review of theory, a private tour of Newport Shipyard, and a walk-through of vessels from a firefighting perspective.

“When firefighters add water to a vessel, they must remove water because you don’t want the vessel to sink, dumping all that fuel into the water,” said Lessard. “These yachts are often in crowded quarters such as the boat show or a marina such as Newport Shipyard. A fire could spread quickly.

“We partnered with Newport Shipyard because they are very interested about preventing potential fires in their facility,” he continued. “The training is beneficial to all the marine operators in town. In addition to loss prevention, it is also our way of participating in the yachting industry.”

AIG is also a sponsor of the local Clagett Regatta, which provides sailors with disabilities the opportunity to improve their skills through coaching and competition.

Fighting a yacht fire involves working within confined, hot spaces, because of boat making materials such as aluminum and durable glass.

“These yachts have a tremendous amount of woodwork in them, and miles and miles of wiring, which can be very flammable,” Lessard said. “There is a large amount of fuel contained in a vessel, compared to a home, which is easily ventilated through the roof. On a boat, there are not many options.”

The program was offered at no cost to the city, including overtime wages.

“The 20 guys are already here and eight are coming in on their own time,” said Newport Fire Chief Peter Connerton earlier in the week. “This is something the guys do a lot. They go above and beyond what is mandatory in terms of training because they want to learn to do things better.”

Although the city is considering accepting a grant to purchase a new $1 million boat for the department, this training is land-based yacht firefighting, and unrelated to the decision.

“It’s just a coincidence. They actually wanted to come last year, but we were working on our advanced EMT training at that time,” said the fire chief.

Nevertheless, if the city moves forward with the purchase, the insurance company has offered to pick up the tab for the training required to operate the new fireboat.

“The training that they are going for right now isn’t geared toward the fireboat. However, in my meeting with the deputy chief, he asked if we could provide the training when they get the boat,” said Lessard. “That is something we absolutely can provide.”

Around 200 firefighters have already gone through the loss prevention program in departments such as Ft. Lauderdale, Miami and West Palm Beach. This was the first time the training was offered in the Northeast.

If the department feels it was worthwhile, the insurance company has offered to continue the training in the future.

“We are happy to come back on an annual basis if that is something they would like to do,” said Lessard. “Newport is the largest mecca of the yachting industry on the East Coast. A lot of large yachts are tied up at the Newport Shipyard.”

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