By Sallie James, Staff Writer
April 26, 2004, 5:46 AM EDT
The “mayday” call came in about 7 p.m. Sunday from a frantic firefighting crew trapped deep inside a burning ship.
Ten firefighters working furiously to aim water on the flaming engine room of the 157-foot Newfoundland Explorer had suddenly found themselves engulfed by a wall of flame, supervisors said. “The fire flashed,” said a much-shaken Fire Lt. Rick Pardo, who was among the crew trapped two decks below when flames shot to the ceiling. “When I saw that wall of fire, it just knocked us to the ground, it was so intense.” Unable to see in the pitch-black smoke, the trapped firefighters trained their fire hose upward to ward off the growing fire, all the while feeling their way along a passageway toward the stairs they had come down. Supervisors on shore immediately took a roll call to make sure everyone inside was on their way out. All 10 escaped without serious injury. “It doesn’t get any worse than this type of scenario,” said Fort Lauderdale Division Chief Steve McInerny. “It’s just experience and discipline that saved their lives.” No one was aboard the vessel, which is registered to the Cayman Islands.
The blaze, which had initially appeared to be minimal, turned into a raging inferno in 20 minutes, McInerny said. Before it was over, approximately 55 firefighters had responded to what became a four-alarm fire. The fire blew up when firefighting crews aimed water at a scuttle hatch through which dense smoke was billowing, McInerny said. “When they opened up that line, that pushed the fire out, and the fire came up from engine room and surrounded them in a situation called a flashover,” McInerny said. “They were able to keep that hose line in play and literally fight for their lives.” The fire, which started in the engine room of the four-story pleasure boat, was reported at 6:29 p.m. Firefighters arrived to find white smoke coming from the ship in the 1900 block of Southeast 17th Street, McInerny said. At 6:53 p.m., firefighters sent out a second alarm, at 6:58 p.m. a third alarm. Then a few minutes later, supervisors on scene heard the screams of “mayday,” McInerny said. A fourth alarm was called at 7:04 p.m. because of the “mayday,” McInerny said.
“It’s definitely a sickening feeling. You certainly don’t want to hear those words,” McInerny said. “That’s when everyone has to be on their best game and work as a team. They are extremely lucky to get out of this ship alive.”