FIRE IN COAL BUNKER

Mike Spooner

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Hi Sam,
Thanks for the information on heat applied to the metal at 1200 F. The only problem I have I can't open up the Dr. Tim Foecke report. Is there a book on this subject?
There is a mention of a rush water came through indicating some thing has failed. Now if that was the case it might of extended the life of Titanic by a further 10-20 minutes! Whether that would of made much different in saving more lives is questionable.
I see the real issue is releasing a brand new ship with a coal bunker fire in the first place. Where the coal bunker fire becomes distraction for the benefit of the senior directors of the company! I can' imagen the chief engineer, captain and chief designer would of been happy of the problem and if had the opportunity would of fix the fire before leaving port! But over ruled by the company Chairman putting profit before safety. Why was Titanic given perfect of coal over other ships laid up due to the national coal strike. Then went to the trouble of removing over 4000 tons of coal from 5 other ships. This sounds like poor management decisions coming from the top!
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Is there a book on this subject?
Jennifer McCarty & Tim Foecke, What Really Sank The Titanic, Citadel Press, 2008, pp. 175-180.
Mike, it's not my place to judge decisions that management makes,good or bad. However, my understanding is that bunker fires such as the one that developed here were not considered to be a safety hazard, but more of an annoyance. But I'll leave it to others to decide right Vs. wrong here.

The rush of water referred to seems to fit the bursting of a bunker door in BR 5 due to the build up of water pressure on the inside of the empty bunker. It came from the space directly between two boilers, opposite where a bunker door was located.
 

Mike Spooner

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I have order the book What Really Sank The Titanic.
The rush of water referred to seems to fit the bursting of a bunker door in BR 5! That rather sounds like a design fault or had the fire weaken the door?
Hearing that typical remark coal bunker fire were only just an annoyance and so common. That is the sort of remark one would hear from a man in a smart suit and tie who has never worked in a 120f boiler room. Or shovelling back breaking coal into boilers breathing in coal dust with sulphur. As far the senior manager concern is to get the ship from A-B on time. Now if you have a coal bunker fire whist at sea you don't have much choice to put it out. But to have a coal bunker fire before the start of maiden crossing and whist in port is unacceptable not to tackle before leaving port. White Star was a profitable company and could well afford a delay in Titanic sailing date!
 

Seumas

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The bunker doors were not designed to be watertight.

Hearing that typical remark coal bunker fire were only just an annoyance and so common. That is the sort of remark one would hear from a man in a smart suit and tie who has never worked in a 120f boiler room.

Well they were common as it happens and the men who tackled the fire on the Titanic and survived to testify seemed unperturbed by it. It went with job of working down there.

A fire in the coal bunker did not contribute to the sinking of RMS Titanic.

There was no conspiracy. There were no plots. There were no cover ups.
 

Scott Mills

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Well they were common as it happens and the men who tackled the fire on the Titanic and survived to testify seemed unperturbed by it. It went with job of working down there.

A fire in the coal bunker did not contribute to the sinking of RMS Titanic.
I am far more interested in whether or not the watertight bulkhead itself was warped by the fire, as I personally never gave much credence to the notion that the fire could be, in any way, related to the collision damage itself.

And what is of note to me--not being an expert in metallurgy--is that both Barrett and Hendrickson testified to some visible damage to the bulkhead. Hendrickson's description being the most 'concerning' as it goes, as he actually states that the bulkhead appeared warped. Whether or not this could have caused the bulkhead to lose some of its structural integrity, I do not know; however, I do know that there certainly is a temperature combined with exposure time at which the structural integrity could have been harmed.

And assuming a scenario where the sinking of Titanic was aided or hastened in some way because of a structural failure, there need not be any 'conspiracy' really. As the number of people who would have lived to witness it fully would be very small indeed. Besides which, while I am certainly not a person who sees a 'convoluted' conspiracy everywhere, even if we leave aside all of this talk about the coal fire, it is very clear to most people familiar with the crew testimony (and how the world works) that there was some deliberate attempt by the surviving crew to minimize the culpability of themselves and White Star Line. Even Lighttoller himself refers to both inquiries as 'a bit of a whitewash.'

In other words, some of the crew 'conspired' amongst themselves and with their employer to make their employer appear as innocent as possible in the whole affair.

This is the very definition of conspiracy. ;) So I personally think it does great harm to just speak about a 'conspiracy' as if a 'conspiracy' is always some outlandish claim like aliens killed JFK with the help of the CIA and the FBI; or that NASA faked both the moon landing and any evidence the world is round.
 
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Bob_Read

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Even if the fire had caused structural damage to the bulkhead, I have never heard any authority state that a damaged bulkhead would have made a difference in whether the ship would have sunk or not. The worst case scenario is that if it failed because of the damage, it might have affected the rate of the ultimate sinking, not the certainty of it.
 

Scott Mills

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Even if the fire had caused structural damage to the bulkhead, I have never heard any authority state that a damaged bulkhead would have made a difference in whether the ship would have sunk or not. The worst case scenario is that if it failed because of the damage, it might have affected the rate of the ultimate sinking, not the certainty of it.
Bob, keep in mind, I am rather agnostic about the whole thing until there is more evidence either way; however, I am pretty sure the claim made by some people is that there was actually no damage to boiler room number six, and that the sudden torrent of water testified to was not merely the water exiting the coal bunker doors, but rather represented a catastrophic structural failure of the bulkhead separating BR 5 and 6.

My only approach at this point is getting an unbiased answer to whether or not there was any realistic scenario (any real statistical probability over 2% would do) where a sustained 3 to 4 day coal fire could have warped the bulkhead to the point that structural integrity was lost such that the bulkhead could have collapsed under the load of water (were this scenario accurate).

For me, the only thing that keeps me curious is the testimony by the two leading firemen that the bulkhead had visible damage, and according to Hendrickson appeared to be "warped."

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The problem is, often as not, that I do not trust anyone in arguments like this. You will have one set of people who insist that the established historical narrative must be what happened, while simultaneously you will have supporters of a pet theory demanding that everyone recognize that their theory must be what happened. I prefer a more agnostic approach where we calmly assess all possible scenarios and come to an agreement, as best as possible, based firmly on the evidence available to us. That, and I really do not trust Barrett's testimony. :D
 
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Bob_Read

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Scott: Regardless of which side of the debate they are on, have you ever heard anyone say that what may have happened to this bulkhead would have made the difference between Titanic sinking or not sinking?
 

mitfrc

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Bob, keep in mind, I am rather agnostic about the whole thing until there is more evidence either way; however, I am pretty sure the claim made by some people is that there was actually no damage to boiler room number six, and that the sudden torrent of water testified to was not merely the water exiting the coal bunker doors, but rather represented a catastrophic structural failure of the bulkhead separating BR 5 and 6.

My only approach at this point is getting an unbiased answer to whether or not there was any realistic scenario (any real statistical probability over 2% would do) where a sustained 3 to 4 day coal fire could have warped the bulkhead to the point that structural integrity was lost such that the bulkhead could have collapsed under the load of water (were this scenario accurate).

For me, the only thing that keeps me curious is the testimony by the two leading firemen that the bulkhead had visible damage, and according to Hendrickson appeared to be "warped."

Edit

The problem is, often as not, that I do not trust anyone in arguments like this. You will have one set of people who insist that the established historical narrative must be what happened, while simultaneously you will have supporters of a pet theory demanding that everyone recognize that their theory must be what happened. I prefer a more agnostic approach where we calmly assess all possible scenarios and come to an agreement, as best as possible, based firmly on the evidence available to us. That, and I really do not trust Barrett's testimony. :D

A fire, fueled by the contents of the coal bunker, burning for 3-4 days, could have damaged the bulkhead enough to structurally compromise it. There is no evidence the fire was of the requisite intensity, however. But “a coal fire” for 3-4 days with a probability above 2 pct of damaging the bulkhead? Certainly...
 
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There is no doubt that the bulkhead was damaged, if you care to call it that, by the fire since it was seen to be permanently dinged somewhat as a result of expansion. But it is a big leap to suggest that it catastrophically failed as a result. If it did fail catastrophically, then Frederick Barrett would not have lived to tell about it. It would have been more than a simple "wave of green foam come tearing through between the boilers."
 

Scott Mills

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Sam, I tend to agree; however, I suspect that the counter argument would be that the point of failure was the point of 'damage' to the bulkhead. So water would only come through, at rather high pressure I would assume, the small point of failure. To be honest though, I suspect Barrett was not actually where he claimed to be in his testimony, either because he is purposefully trying to set a narrative, or his recollections were confused--which would not be completely surprising given what he experienced.
 

Scott Mills

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A fire, fueled by the contents of the coal bunker, burning for 3-4 days, could have damaged the bulkhead enough to structurally compromise it. There is no evidence the fire was of the requisite intensity, however. But “a coal fire” for 3-4 days with a probability above 2 pct of damaging the bulkhead? Certainly...
If that is the case, then it is enough for me to say: we cannot eliminate damage caused by the coal fire as a reasonably possible contributing factor to Titanic's sinking, albeit an unlikely one. This is one of the many reasons I wish I was as rich as James Cameron and could fund expeditions to Titanic so we could attempt to finally get an ROV down into the boiler rooms.
 
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Bob_Read

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Hi Scott: You wrote: “ ... damage caused by the coal fire as a reasonably possible contributing factor to Titanic's sinking,”. You have never answered the question of whether you think that if there was bulkhead failure here that Titanic would not have otherwise ultimately sunk if it hadn’t failed.
 
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I suspect Barrett was not actually where he claimed to be in his testimony, either because he is purposefully trying to set a narrative, or his recollections were confused--which would not be completely surprising given what he experienced.
In that case, why don't you simply discount what he claimed to see about water tearing through between the boilers? Perhaps he made it all up?
 

mitfrc

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If that is the case, then it is enough for me to say: we cannot eliminate damage caused by the coal fire as a reasonably possible contributing factor to Titanic's sinking, albeit an unlikely one. This is one of the many reasons I wish I was as rich as James Cameron and could fund expeditions to Titanic so we could attempt to finally get an ROV down into the boiler rooms.

Respectfully, that is a classic act of misunderstanding a scientific statement and misunderstanding probability. I answered your question truthfully, but there is no contribution to Titanic's final sinking because there is no evidence the coal fire was actually hot enough along the bulkhead to exceed the plastic strength of the bulkhead and Occam's Razor says we need no additional causes: The plain facts of the damage to Titanic was that it was sufficient to admit enough water, in enough watertight compartments, to make the ship sink, and that the soundings plainly indicated this to the professionals on the scene before the bulkhead could have plausibly failed.
 

Robby House

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Regarding the issue of damage that the fire in Stokehold No. 9/Coal Bunker W (forward, starboard side coal bunker of No. 5 Boiler Room) may have caused to Watertight Bulkhead E between Boiler Rooms 5 & 6 I'm of the opinion that very little in the way of damage was sustained. Over the past year I've picked up a part time hobby of blacksmithing and have learned a little about the physical properties of metal especially when exposed to high heat. Mild Steel was used to form the shell plating which essentially made up the hull, bulkheads and subcompartmental partitions that formed rooms like the Coal Bunkers. Mild Steel has a very low carbon content. Steel with high concentrations of carbon is desirable because it's stronger and harder than mild steel. However, during the forging process steel alloys with higher carbon particle content has to be put through a heat treatment known as annealing . This is a process of allowing high carbon steel to slowly cool over several hours until room temperature once removed from the forge. If one where to remove a bar of high carbon steel from the forge and then suddenly quench it in water or even allow it to cool to room temperature with no annealing process it would become as brittle as glass. Since mild steel was used in the construction of Titanic's hull, bulkheads, and miscellaneous partitions there was no danger of brittling. You can heat and quench and heat and quench and heat and quench mild steel multiple times and it really doesn't cause the sorts of structural weaknesses many have speculated about Bulkhead E. Sure you can heat mild steel or any type of steel to white hot temperatures for too long and totally ruin the metal, but those conditions weren't reached.

I feel beyond a shadow of doubt that the wave of "green foam" and whatever else witnessed by 2nd Engineer Harvey and Fireman Fred Barrett in No. 5 Boiler Room as they were attempting to attach a set of non-collapsible "wandering hoses" to the bilge or ballast pump located at the central aft end of that compartment was Coal Bunker W's hatch door finally giving way. The immense pressure from the rising seawater of which it wasn't designed to hold back simply blew open allowing the flooded coal bunker to violently rush out into the main Boiler Room area of the compartment. The event was enough to cause both men to drop what they were doing and make their way up the escape ladder. In retrospect, probably the best thing to have done would have been to allow the ingress to pour through the open hatch door onto the Tank Top where it could then easily have been pumped out by the compartment's dedicated bilge pump previously mentioned. There were no drains to allow the ingress of seawater collecting in Coal Bunker W (or any Coal Bunker for that matter) from emptying into the main part of the Boiler Room where it could have been removed. Having said this it wouldn't have mattered one bit to the survival of Titanic.

BELOW: The situation at the time of final evacuation of No. 5 Boiler Room around 1:15 AMish...

PUMPS4.png
 
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Scott Mills

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BELOW: The situation at the time of final evacuation of No. 5 Boiler Room around 1:15 AMish...

View attachment 44962
I tend to the same impression our resident David Brown has of this particular story. It really is hard to believe that the failure of the coal bunker doors accounts for the 'deluge' described by Barrett. I say this because, in terms of fluid dynamics, the water inside the bunker would have stopped its ingress when it reached the surface level of the water outside the ship. Meaning, two things I think.

  1. The amount of water and any remaining coal in said bunker could only ever extend to the waterline of the ship. Given this, it just does not seem there could have ever been enough water to explain the 'sudden' deluge.
  2. Since the coal bunkers were not designed to be water tight, why did it take so long for the door(s) to fail (and why would both fail simultaneously, as soon as one failed the pressure on the other would immediately be relieved)

Finally the reported damage to the coal bunker was slight. Certainly slight enough it would have taken some time (obviously) to fill the bunker to the point that the doors would fail. If this is the case, the sudden onrush of water when the doors failed should have dissipated to the slow ingress from the initial damage.
 

Mike Spooner

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Just throw another angle into the coal bunker fire.
Do we known how much coal was in this bunker when leaving Southampton? A total figure of 5,892 tons is given when leaving Southampton as maximum capacity was 6,611tons. About 11% down. Was this one of the bunkers with less coal? If that was the case. Why wasn't possible just to leave the bunker on fire and remove no coal, but just keep pouring cool water down into the bunker until the fire is put out? Isn't that what the fire brigade do with a burning building! Or was there a coal consumption to be consider for length of the crossing?
 

Rancor

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I tend to the same impression our resident David Brown has of this particular story. It really is hard to believe that the failure of the coal bunker doors accounts for the 'deluge' described by Barrett. I say this because, in terms of fluid dynamics, the water inside the bunker would have stopped its ingress when it reached the surface level of the water outside the ship. Meaning, two things I think.

  1. The amount of water and any remaining coal in said bunker could only ever extend to the waterline of the ship. Given this, it just does not seem there could have ever been enough water to explain the 'sudden' deluge.
  2. Since the coal bunkers were not designed to be water tight, why did it take so long for the door(s) to fail (and why would both fail simultaneously, as soon as one failed the pressure on the other would immediately be relieved)

Finally the reported damage to the coal bunker was slight. Certainly slight enough it would have taken some time (obviously) to fill the bunker to the point that the doors would fail. If this is the case, the sudden onrush of water when the doors failed should have dissipated to the slow ingress from the initial damage.
Cutting to the chase on this one, I understand Mr. Brown suggests that the flooding was due to the accidental opening of a bilge valve in an attempt to try and dewater boiler room 6.

Something I have always wondered about this is if this was the case and Fred Barrett opened a valve that immediately caused the compartment to start to flood, would he not just close it again?