Students Go Overboard for M/V Spencer Baird Safety Training
By Timothy Falconer
Pendills Creek National Fish Hatchery
Those haunting words were heard during the training for work aboard the M/V Spencer F. Baird this past summer. Fortunately for everyone involved, that phrase was proclaimed during training simulations of what to do should someone really fall overboard while working aboard the boat.
A fire on the water? It could happen! Students learn how to suppress a fire using the on-board fire hose. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
Six students, including myself, from the Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest, took part in a safety course in Cheboygan, Michigan, in order to learn all we could about safely working aboard the M/V Spencer Baird. The M/V Baird is the Service's flagship research and fish stocking vessel in the Great Lakes. The 3-day course covered 19 topics related to safe boat work and emergency measures directly related to this particular vessel, and consisted of classroom and on boat instruction.
In one exercise, fire alarms were set off to simulate a forced evacuation of the boat due to uncontrolled fire or smoke. The class exercises also included practicing the use of four different escape routes throughout the boat in order to get everyone safely to the muster area.
For one of the exercises, students were fitted with specially designed “foggles,” which are goggles with packing tape over the lenses to duplicate low visibility situations. The low visibility exercise was difficult, but nothing compared to the next level of testing - getting out with zero visibility. The participants were given sleep masks, not for nap time, but for totally blocking out any and all visibility. Students then proceeded and responded to the alarms, attempting to exit the boat. Along the route, instructors were shouting certain ways were blocked and it was up to us to remember and navigate to another exit from wherever we were.
Other learning activities included using fire extinguishers or the on-board fire hose to put out fires. We also participated in pool activities demonstrating various methods of water survival and rescue.
One practice maneuver, attempted in the pool, was the technique of presenting as large a target for potential rescuers to see as possible, known as the "carpet technique." This technique is also useful to help relieve an exhausted or injured crew member by bringing them on top of the “human carpet” created by linking your arms around the legs of the people on either side of you.
For many Service employees, working on the water is an essential part of their job. Hands-on experiential training like this, helps to insure that Service employees can complete their work knowing that, if problems arise, they have the necessary skills to keep themselves and their fellow colleagues safe.