I have said over and over again that, at DOT, safety is our number one priority. And most Americans are quick to recognize DOT as a leader in road, rail, air, and pipeline safety. But our Maritime Administration (MARAD) also plays an important safety role, and its Great Lakes Fire Training Center is a critical part of preparing America's Merchant Marine for fire safety on waterborne vessels.
Last week, Maritime Administrator David Matsuda traveled to Swanton, Ohio, to tour this important facility and watch five high school seniors from the Toledo Maritime Academy, who became the first from their school to train at the center. By all accounts, it was an impressive day.
"Marine transportation is a great industry, with good employment opportunities," Administrator Matsuda told the students. "Together, MARAD and the Toledo Maritime Academy are helping high school students graduate with the qualifications they need to begin a career at sea and to ensure that career is a safe one. The Maritime Administration has been teaching mariners how to fight fires on board vessels for 30 years at this location, and we are proud to be able to offer this kind of training."
The Merchant Marine Act of 1936 established as policy that the United States shall have a merchant marine "manned with trained and efficient citizen personnel." MARAD's Merchant Marine Seamen Fire Training Program was launched in 1976 to help fulfill that policy with improved firefighting training for U.S. mariners.
The Great Lakes Center launched its first training course in 1982. Its primary training objective is to ensure a lasting respect for and understanding of shipboard fires. The Center provides classroom training in the specialized fields of controlling fires and performing fire rescue on board maritime vessels, but the students also conduct live-fire exercises in a ship-fire simulator to put that training into practice. Students are presented with a variety of progressively more difficult live fire situations that require teamwork and decision making. They enter enclosed fire and smoke-filled spaces encumbered with protective fire suits, helmets, breathing apparatus, and fire hoses.
Said Daryl Winfree, one of the Toledo Maritime Academy students, "It was hot, and it was dark. I couldn't see anything. But I want to do firefighting, and if I can do it on a ship, that's good."
The training meets the requirements for U.S. Coast Guard licensing of merchant seaman, so students pursuing safety certification through the center include American merchant mariners, the commercial maritime industry, and undergraduate maritime academy cadets. But the center also hosts courses for government agencies--including the US Coast Guard, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and municipal fire departments.
As Administrator Matsuda said, "When you're aboard a ship and you don't have access to a fire department or hospital, you really have to be trained in all of these things to be part of the crew. It's all part of an active, vibrant merchant marine in America."
Active and vibrant, yes, and thanks to the Great Lakes Fire Training Center, we can also add safe.
Please go to http://www.fastlane.dot.gov/2012/02/great-lakes-fire-safety.html to read the full blog.