Saturday, November 09, 2013

Friday Evening, 11/08/13 Fire on the Ship

Friday Evening, 11/08/13 Fire on the Ship

After my day in Wellington, New Zealand, I returned to the ship with a headache, and I decided not to go to the dining room for dinner, but to get a hamburger at the grill and eat in my room.  By 8:30, my headache was worse, and I went to bed.  About 9:00 p.m., I heard an announcement in the hallway, something about the Princess Theater; announcements are made in public areas, including hallways, all the time, and these announcements usually regard sales on the ship or entertainment on the ship.  When an important announcement is made by the captain of the ship, it is made very loudly inside the rooms.  So when this announcement was made, I assumed it had something to do with entertainment.  After another 10-15 minutes, the captain made an announcement in the rooms, informing everyone on the ship that the fire alarms had sounded at a certain part of the ship on the deck below the Princess Theater, and that staff were checking the situation out.  He asked everyone on the ship to return to their rooms, but to take no further action until further notice.

About 10 minutes later, my cabin steward suddenly banged loudly on my door and then opened the door with his master key, and said loudly and urgently that I should get dressed, take my jacket and my life vest and report to my muster station as quickly as possible.  He repeated his instruction urgently and said to hurry.  So that is what I did.  The temperature outside at that point was about 40 degrees, and I knew that the life boats were open air boats, so it would be cold in them.  I quickly slipped on two sweaters that I had brought with me and my jacket, picked up my life jacket, and stepped out into the hallway.  I smelled smoke very strongly and realized that I was on the 10th deck, and the fire was on the 6th deck, so it must be an important fire that the crew had not been able to deal with and it must be strong enough to send smoke up four floors.  I realized that the situation was urgent.

The stairs were packed with people, and the move down the stairs to the muster station was very slow; many people on this ship are quite old and many are quite infirm and move very slowly.  I patiently made my way to my muster station on the 7th deck, and showed my room key to be scanned in; I was given a sticker to put on my jacket showing that I had checked in.  The room was packed, standing room only.  People were very concerned and talked among themselves as they waited for further instructions.

Fire is the greatest hazard at sea.  Fire can spread quickly and smoke even more quickly.  In fires, people usually die of smoke inhalation rather than the fire itself.  Time is needed to get the lifeboats ready and get all the passengers into the lifeboats -- and smoke can travel very quickly.

After a few minutes, the captain announced that the fire was an electrical fire and it had been completely brought under control.  He said that everyone should stay at their muster stations while the crew checked other electrical “panels” to make sure that the fire had not spread, and that the danger had been completely controlled.

At that point, the crew began to check the computerized “roll call” to make sure that everyone on the ship had been accounted for.  A senior officer at my muster station asked if anyone had not checked in and obtained a “sticker” when they entered the muster station, and many hands went up.  Crew then methodically went to each of those passengers to check them in by hand; the electronic “check-in” process evidently had failed in some cases, and in some cases, passengers had not brought their room keys with them.  This process took quite a bit of time.

Some passengers were still not accounted for, and the senior crew member then began to announce names and room numbers of missing passengers.  Some of those passengers were present in the room, and they were checked in.  Others were not present, and a search went out for them.  Finally, all passengers in my muster station were accounted for except one.  There are several muster stations on the ship, and this process was conducted at each of them.

The captain then announced the name of that one passenger still missing and asked him to make himself known to any crew member; he was quickly located.  Then the captain announced that the fire was completely under control and all passengers could return to their rooms.  The total time at the muster station was about an hour, and passengers were relieved to be reassured by the captain.

By the time I had returned to my room, I was in terrible pain from my headache.  It was very severe, so severe that I wondered if I might have a stroke.  When I returned to my room, I fell into bed immediately and soon fell asleep.  My headaches are usually the same -- sharp pains in and around my left eye that make me feel very nauseated.  They can be quite severe at times, although this time was the worst I could remember.  Happily, this morning as I write this, my headache has subsided.

Later, I thought of what the scenario might be if a fire occurred in the middle of the Tasman Sea.  This fire occurred while the ship was a mile from shore and could easily move even closer, and in very calm seas.  What would happen if a fire occurred two days from land and in very rough seas, with waves 25 feet high and high winds.  I do not believe that the little life boats could withstand such conditions; I think they would soon capsize or fill with water and sink.  Such possibilities make one pause about going on another cruise ship, particularly in rough waters or far from shore.

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