More felt than heard was the concussion
from the explosion of atomized fuel ejected
from the lantern that crushed my glasses to
my face and blew me backward onto the settee. Head ringing, I jumped to my feet, the
cabin spinning, and looked to see where Liz
was. It was then that I realized the cabin floor
was in flames. I stood dazed, not actually
registering the gravity of the situation until
a searing pain in my leg jolted me back to
reality. My shoe was on fire, flames lapping
up my leg. Grabbing a throw pillow off the
settee, I snuffed it out and heard Liz scream.
Desperately I called out to her, imagining her
on fire. A response came from the bottom of
the starboard hull stairs where she was peering wide-eyed, pale, but un-charred.
NOW OR NEVER
The air was turning acrid. We had only
moments before it would be too late. Even
as the cabin rapidly heated to oven temperatures, precious seconds were lost while a
dozen scenarios of action flashed through my
mind. I fought to make a decision. We had
to move. NOW!
Between the flames, I pulled Liz up from
below, dragged her across the salon, and
FIREFIGHTING FACTS AND RESOURCES
THE RIGHT FIRE EXTINGUISHER Fire extinguishers are classified by the type of fire they
can put out. Class A extinguishers, for example, are meant to be used on solids, like paper,
wood … or fiberglass. The three types are: Class A — solid; Class B — liquids (gasoline, kerosene, etc.); and Class C — electrical. But rather than carrying three different types, just buy
an ABC-rated, USCG-approved extinguisher, one that works on all types of fires, so you don’t
have to think at all if a fire is ever singeing your eyebrows.
ENOUGH FIRE EXTINGUISHERS The Coast Guard requires that almost all recreational
vessels carry fire extinguishers; the type and number depend on your vessel size. But too
many fire extinguishers is way better than too few, especially if the fire starts between you
and the only extinguisher onboard. You should always have a dedicated extinguisher in or
just outside of the engine room, and at least one for the main living spaces. If your boat has
a galley, you should have a separate one there. The more areas that could be isolated from
the rest of the boat by fire, the more extinguishers you need.
EXTINGUISHER ALTERNATIVE — FIRE BLANKETS As the author found out, discharging
a chemical extinguisher creates an incredible mess, and the powder is very corrosive. For
small fires, like those that might occur in a galley, an alternative is a fire blanket made from
heavy fire-retardant material. They can be found on the Internet in two sizes: 3’ x 3’ and 6’ x
6’. A small one in the galley and a big one in the main salon provide cheap insurance.
AFTER THE FIRE — FIRST AID FOR MINOR BURNS If all of the layers of the skin have
been burned, don’t touch it — just call 911. If the burn is red or blistered but there is no real
damage to the underlying tissue, you can treat it yourself. Cool it immediately in cool, not
cold, water. Don’t use ice. Once cool, clean with mild soap and water. There is disagreement
on whether or not to break blisters, but whether you do or not, you should not apply antibiotic ointment, lotion, oil, butter, or egg white (sorry, Grandma). Apply a thin layer of aloe
vera if you have it and leave the burn open or wrap it in a dressing that will not shed fibers,
leaving the dressing loose so that air can still reach the wound. — BETH A. LEONARD