Tisbury FD gets SSA schematics, a first

Fire chief says ferry plans delivery part of new, appreciated era of cooperation.

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The Tisbury Fire Department now has schematics of SSA vessels. — Lucas Thors

Updated March 26

The Steamship Authority recently delivered detailed plans of its vessels to the Tisbury Fire Department for the first time in either organization’s history, Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling and SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll both told The Times. The move is seen as a safety milestone. Gary Robinson, chairman of the Island emergency managers, lauded the SSA’s decision to deliver the plans.

“Imagine being in a ship without power that’s full of smoke,” Robinson said. Like building plans, which are readily available to fire departments, ship plans are essential for firefighter navigation in low- or zero-visibility conditions, he said. “Basically what a ferry is, it’s a floating building,” he said.

Chief Schilling previously said if his firefighters needed to board a ferry in an emergency, and in particular traverse belowdecks spaces when visibility was hampered, they would be at a dangerous disadvantage because they were without knowledge of the layout of those spaces.

“There are some tight operating spaces belowdecks,” Chief Schilling said.

“I appreciate the fact we’re building a strong working relationship with the Steamship Authority, both onshore and on the vessels,” he said. Schilling singled out SSA operations manager Mark Rozum as “doing everything in his power” to cooperate with Tisbury on issues of safety.

“In the past, that didn’t exist,” Schilling said, describing the SSA’s willingness to share and collaborate as a “culture shift.”

On Thursday, March 28, Tisbury will hold a first ever tabletop safety meeting with the SSA, according to Driscoll.

Going forward, Driscoll said the SSA plans to use transits of ferries to and from its Fairhaven facility for firefighters to walk through and familiarize themselves with various vessels.

For security reasons, Driscoll said, the plans for SSA ferries are sensitive and not available to the public. In the event of an emergency, port agents are able to access them.

“We have enjoyed a longstanding positive relationship with the municipal and emergency agencies in our port communities,” Rozum emailed, “and we look forward to continuing that spirit of cooperation and teamwork on future projects and requests.”

Driscoll said Larry Ferreira, SSA director of security, is reaching out to other ports and agencies in an effort to provide ferry plans where needed and where appropriate.

Robinson said Tisbury’s possession of the plans is a life safety game-changer. “More than anything, it’s probably going to save a lot of firefighter lives,” he said.

Updated to correct the date of the SSA tabletop safety meeting with Tisbury.