Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Firebird Farewell

The Royal Canadian Navy has retired the CNAV Firebird,.the long serving HMC Dockyard fireboat. A fixture in Halifax harbour as it made its daily security rounds to the DRDC barge in Bedford Basin, it also performed the occasional demonstration and water display, and was called upon (rarely) to fight a fire. Another little known and overlooked role was in recovering bodies from the harbour, particularly jumpers from the bridges.

Built in 1978 by Vancouver Shipyard, in North Vancouver BC, with sister Firebrand based at Esquimault, Firebird arrived in Halifax ca. August 1, 1978 in a rather novel manner. It was mounted on a cradle and secured to the deck of a barge and towed from Vanvouver via the Panama Canal. The tug Ocean Crown (which did the towing) and two barges G of G 232 and G of G 240 had been purchased by the Quebec firm Techno Maritime. To defray the coast of bringing the barges east, they took a passenger! In the end Techno Maritime refused delivery of the tug, but kept the barges.

At 76' long by 20'-6" wide the boat packed in a  lot of power. It had two 385 bhp Cat engines for propulsion and two more 365 bhp engines for pumping. Each could pump 1500 igpm at 150 psi. The crew of seven had three 1250 gpm monitors and numerous deck fittings to fight fires. It also had 500 igals of AFFF (foam).

It generally responded to all Dockyard fire calls (The Dockyard also has a land based fire department) and elsewhere in the harbour. The only year for which I have figures is 1990 and in the first ten months it responded to 133 calls. Its daily harbour rounds were cut back to Monday to Friday earlier this year.

Thankfully there have not been many ship fires during its tenure, the most recent being on board Caruso the former CCGS Tupper in 2008.

Operated under the Queen's Harbour Master with a civilian crew, Firebird was originally designated YFB 561 (Yard Fire Boat). This was later changed to YTR 561 (Yard Tug Rescue). Although classed as a tug it is too small to do any significant towing . The initials CNAV (Canadian Naval Auxiliary Vessel) have also replaced CFAV (Canadian Forces Auxiliary Vessel) to distinguish it from a commissioned naval vessel, which would be designated HMCS.

With two civilian tugs in the harbour with substantial firefighting capability and other resources in HMC Dockyard the need for such a vessel has diminished, and it will not be replaced. New large naval tugs are planned and they will also have firefighting capability.

Firebird has been declared surplus and will be put up for disposal.

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