The Royal Swedish Navy and the Cutting Extinguisher: Social change and new challenges

ColdCut explain how their ground-breaking cutting extinguisher has revolutionised the potentially extremely hazardous world of on-board marine fire-fighting

Funding for solving the military assignments and duties has been steadily decreasing over the past decades. At the same time new international missions have emerged into the arena.
Robert Averin, Project Manager for Naval Damage Control at FMV, the Swedish Defence Material Administration, says that in order for the Royal Swedish Navy to maintain fast responses to new missions, it has implied doing more for less: Including more efficient strategies and tactics, bilateral procurement initiatives, life cycle extension, etc.
Social changes have introduced a more uniform legal situation, comparing civilian and military sectors of the community. Among other things, change in the recruitment process, going from a draft organisation to professional sailors and soldiers, more civilian regulations were brought in to the military organisations. Civilian work environment regulations
and other jurisdictions were to be enforced throughout all
military levels.
The change in global politics and Sweden’s membership in the European Community introduced new joint missions to be completed at virtually any place around the globe. These brought forth yet new challenges for crew and equipment.
As more sophisticated equipment had been introduced onboard Swedish naval vessels, the Royal Swedish Navy has found itself spending a larger fraction of resources on training. Sticking to traditional crew intensive solutions were not an option.
Requirements like ‘more for less’ and ‘thinking outside the box’ permeated the whole organisation, including the Naval Procurement Command and the Sea Safety Training School.
As Robert Averin puts it: “The Swedish navy is one of the leanest manned naval forces in the world. Our troops on-board are not full time fire-fighters, they are sailors. Of course they are trained in fire-fighting, but they are first and foremost sailors. Every new product and method we accept on-board must add efficiency to the mission.”

Cutting extinguisher traced
In 2001, the Royal Swedish Navy sought methods for offensive and efficient fire-fighting from a safe defensive position, to meet the demands of fire-fighting on-board composite vessels. In addition, the main target was to find systems supplementing and adding redundancy to traditional onboard systems; with high efficiency in suppressing fires, water usage and crew staffing. The system should also be easy to use, understand and train.
Numbers of tests and evaluations were conducted and the results pointed out the Cutting Extinguisher as a reasonable candidate for fire-fighting on-board composite vessels as well as adding enhancing features to shipboard fire-fighting on traditional steel hull vessel.

The cutting extinguisher was found to fill the gap of time between the initial attack and the BA-attack, providing the shipboard fire-fighting crew to:

  • Reach the fire without adding oxygen
  • Rapidly lowering the temperature in the fire room
  • Minimising the water use, hence minimising collateral damages and stability issues
  • Reducing the number of crew occupied with fire-fighting
  • Enabling the crew to fight the fire efficiently from a relatively safe position
  • Providing the a method to get an overall faster incident control

Robert Averin concludes: “We found that the cutting extinguisher was extremely efficient and supported a method
to combat shipboard fires with minimal risk of the crews’ safety and health.”

Atalanta Operation
In December 2008, the Swedish Government appointed three Swedish naval vessels under the disposal of the EU Atalanta Operation in Aden Bay. Since the appointed vessels were corvettes, they had to undergo fire zone classification according to the Naval Ship Code prior to introduction to the operation fleet at open sea. Compared to insulating zones and retrofitting fixed installed automatic fire suppression systems, the most cost effective way to obtain classification was to install cutting extinguishers as equivalents.
In May 2009, a set of naval engineered cutting extinguishers was delivered prior to the ships’ commissioning in Djibouti. The units were also equipped with CBRN wash nozzles and auxiliary submersible pumps, supplied with power from the unit. Robert Averin states that “the crew [participating in Operation Atalanta] felt much safer to be able to do a Cobra attack, prior to getting involved in a BA-attack, at a possible shipboard fire incident.”

Visby Class Stealth Corvettes
By 2009, FMV and the Royal Swedish Navy had specified the requirements for the cutting extinguisher to be installed onboard the Visby Stealth Corvette Class. The 73 metre corvettes were equipped with dual cutting extinguishers for redundancy; one installed at the bow and one aft. The systems are driven by hydraulic motors, supplied with power from the onboard hydraulic system.
Each of the system reaches to all areas of the ship, thus the redundancy. To complete the systems, a cutting frame unit, with the ability to cut man holes in the composite construction material within two minutes, was installed on-board.

Royal Swedish Navy Shipboard Fire-Fighting
Adding the cutting extinguishing method to the standard shipboard fire-fighting procedure, some extra preparations had to be made. To eliminate risks of aiming the hand lance at places on the deck or bulkheads which have obstacles on the opposite side, Cutting extinguisher Attack Points (CAPs) were marked at pre-defined places: A bright red ‘S’ on a white field. Hatches and doors are also considered pre-defined attack points, but are not marked – since they open, they usually don’t have obstacles on opposite side.

When it comes to procedures, the third action encompasses the cutting extinguisher attack, thus called Second Attack:

  • Early Detection – Alarm,
  • First Attack,
  • Second Attack,
  • BA-Attack – Safe Re-entry Procedure.

The initial two actions are the same as in standard shipboard fire-fighting procedures, they are also the same independently whether it is an incident on-board a composite vessel or a steel hull vessel.
The third step has the cutting extinguishing method included as a first choice or as a complement to fixed installed fire suppressive systems – depending on the assessment of the situation.
On-board a steel hull vessel, using the cutting extinguisher at pre-designated attack points might well make external boundary cooling and fixed fire suppression systems redundant – making the incident handling less crew demanding, both in numbers and with respect to exposure to danger. It will also reduce the quantity of water needed to control the fire. Since the time from detection to applying the cutting extinguisher method normally is less than mustering crew for boundary cooling, the time for the fire to develop in the exposed compartment is held at a minimum, thus reducing the risk of spreading and impact on the mission as such.
When fighting fires onboard a composite vessel, the third step includes the cutting extinguisher as well as fixed installed fire suppression systems where available. Traditional boundary cooling is not an option since the bulkheads and decks insulates both heat and cooling. For composite vessel fire-fighting, time is even more crucial; the structure itself has less resistance against heat. Prolonged exposure could result in adding fuel to the fire from the structure, as well as adding structural damage to the vessel.
The forth step are again similar to standard naval shipboard fire-fighting, with a major difference in ambient temperature at the fire compartment. The high pressure water mist has efficiently decreased the temperature to a comfortable 100C-150C. The forth step could also be initiated earlier than otherwise, due to less time elapsed. If the structure has been damaged or skewed, the cutting extinguisher and/or the cutting frame could be used as clearing tool to make way for final BA-attack and damage assessment.


Naval ship applications

Fire hazards and incidents are of great concern to all types of vessels. The impact on crew, ship and mission could be disastrous. New constructions, new assignments and societal change have triggered the Royal Swedish Navy in searching of safer and more efficient fire-fighting.
Requirements in cost efficiency while maintaining the readiness and capability levels with decreasing number of crew available, has been an issue of great importance on the agenda for the supplying agency. Safety and mission focus have also played a role of great magnitude while evaluating tools and methods.
Research made by the Royal Swedish Navy and others has found that the cutting extinguisher and it methods supplies or contributes extensively with the following features:

  • Safe and rapid re-entry procedure at shipboard fire-fighting through mitigation of backdraft and flash overs, as well as rapid cooling of fire gases
  • The concept require much less crew than standard fire-fighting procedures alone, which leaves more crew available for the mission
  • It is a complement to standard fire-fighting equipment, and is easily introduced to present procedures
  • In comparison with boundary cooling, the cutting extinguisher concept uses minimal amount of water – which decreases stability issues
  • The concept is easy to understand, and is easy to train
  • The method is easily practiced onboard
  • Excellent system for redundancy on breach of fixed installed fire suppression systems
  • The cutting extinguisher can be used where fixed installed fire suppressive systems and other measures don’t reach; void areas, cofferdams and containers for transportation
  • Self-contained diesel engine system works independently of main power systems
  • Can be used as a clearing tool, especially on composite vessels
  • Retrofitting to comply as an equivalent to new classifications/standards are possible and very cost effective
  • Can be used as a CBRN washer for decontamination of the vessel

In addition, the cutting extinguisher could be used for third party fires, as a fire and rescue tool. Robert Averin summarises that “the cutting extinguisher would be a splendid tool for the merchant fleet. They have even less crew and less training than we have in the navy.”

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