Marina Fire Safety: Plan Now or Pay Later
Monday, January 30, 2012 at 4:43PM
Dennis Kissman in 1997, Industry Articles, Insurance, Safety

This article, by Gene Spinazola, was published in Marina Dock Age – November 1997

We’ve all been faced with the auto mechanic who says: “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later,” while holding up the inexpensive oil filter he wants to install in your car.  He’s telling you that you can avoid replacing the more expensive engine further down the road. 

The marina industry is faced with the choice of the oil filter or the engine, too.  Look at it this way.  The marina is the big expense, like buying a car; your safety program is like the oil filter, a small expense that keeps things running smoothly; and the lawsuit is like the engine in the car.  Sometimes it costs more to replace the engine than the car is worth.

When we talk about a well-run marina, we may be talking about the same marina but looking at different things.  I’m a boater, and while I like clean restrooms and showers, I need more than those things for me to feel that a marina is safe and well run. 

This past summer, I was boating and stopped at a marina for the night.  At 3:00 p.m., the boating tenants had a fire drill.  I have been boating for years, and this is the first time that I have ever witnessed a fire drill at a marina.  According to the boaters, the marina staff has a drill once a month.  Also, a special training session was held in the spring just for boaters; the topic was the portable fire extinguisher.  Each boater was shown how to use an extinguisher, and each boater—spouse included—put out a small fire.  When the boaters told us about “their marina,” there was a noticeable hint of pride in this safety-minded facility.

As a marina operator, you should make several of the National Fire Protection Association’s standards required reading.  The first publication you should check out is the 1995 edition of Fire Protection Standards for Marinas and Boatyards (NFPA 303).  The standards are usually revised on a five year cycle, and review of the NFPA 303 will start shortly.  This standard is intended to provide a minimum acceptable level of safety to life and property from fire and electrical hazards at marinas and related facilities.

According to NFPA, this standard applies to the construction and operation of marinas, boatyards, yacht clubs, boat condominiums, multiple docking facilities at multiple-family residences, and all associated piers, docks and floats.  Single family residences with docking facilities for private, non-commercial use are not intended to be covered by this standard, but use of the standard by the authority having jurisdiction or by single-family residences shall be permitted.  This standard also applies to support facilities and structures used for construction, repair, storage, hauling and launching or fueling of vessels if fire on a dock would pose an immediate threat to these facilities, or if a fire at a referenced facility would pose an immediate threat to a dock area.

The NFPA 303 Standards Committee includes members representing insurance companies, boat builders, marina operators, ABYC, Underwriters Lab, National Marine Manufacturers Association, marina consultants, fire departments, sprinkler companies and fire marshals.  Until his recent death, Ernest Brats chaired this committee.

If you have a fuel dock at your facility, then you should also tuck a copy of Automotive and Marine Service Station Codes (304) under your pillow.  In case those of you with dry stack storage facilities feel left out, you can get a copy of NFPA’s Rack Storage of Materials (231C).  There are also other standards like Standpipes and Hose Systems and Installation of Sprinkler Systems.

If you’re going to be held to these standards, you should get a copy of those that apply to you and read them.  You can call National Fire Protection Association at (800) 344-3555 or write them at 1 Batterymarch Park, P.O. Box 9101, Quincy, Mass. 02269-9101. 

If, after reading one of the books, you should want to make a change to a section or add something to the document, you can share your ideas.  At the back of the standards document, there is a form and a set of instructions that will guide you through the process.  Changing the standard, however, will take time.  For example, the NFPA standard 303 will begin the review process later this year and any approved changes will be incorporated in the edition that is due out in the year 2000.  Interim changes are passable if there’s a compelling reason, but most changes will appear in the next issue of this document.

Read this stuff.  Make it your standard or you may soon be in court, buying a new “engine.”

Gene Spinazola specializes in marina fire and safety issues, and he welcomes calls: (207) 326-9147.  He is president of Gene Spinazola P.E. & Associates Inc., in Casane, Maine.www.marinafires.com


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