‘Branddirektor Westphal’: Full firefighting power ahead!

Why Europe’s most advanced fireboat is setting new standards – and the technology behind it.

The Port of Hamburg has one more tourist attraction, and it’s one that makes the city a little safer too. Its size and massive firefighting capacity are only part of what make the ‘Branddirektor Westphal’ so impressive: The mix of technologies on board should also impress both professionals and tech fans. 

“We can now extinguish fires on the world’s largest container and cruise ships,” says Karsten Schönewald, Managing Director of Flotte Hamburg. His company is part of the Hamburg Port Authority and operates the vessels of the water police and the fireboats in the port. The fact that it’s now also possible to fight fires on giant ocean-going vessels is due to the latest – and largest – of the fireboats in the fleet: The ‘Branddirektor Westphal,’ 43.5 meters long and 10 meters wide, named after Johannes Westphal, the first fire director (“Branddirektor”) following World War II. When deployed, it can accommodate a crew of 32 and can pump up to 120,000 liters of water every minute, the equivalent of three tanker trucks. 

We can now extinguish fires on the world’s largest container and cruise ships.
Karsten Schönewald, Managing Director of Flotte Hamburg

In addition to fighting fires, the vessel is also equipped for rescuing people and providing technical assistance. On board is a first-aid station featuring the full range of ambulance equipment. It also has a safe-air system and provides its own cooling in extreme deployment situations, which means that the crew can approach fires without risk and also operate in toxic atmospheres. “This means that we’re equipped to deal with the increasing size of the ships here in the port,” says Schönewald.

Demand grows along with the ships

Freight transportation and tourist traffic in a globalized world have led to exponential growth in the capacity of the ships putting into our harbors. Whereas “Post Panamax-class” container vessels in the late 1980s used to carry 4,000 to 5,000 containers, today’s ships carry as many as 24,000 standard containers. And while the Port of Hamburg recorded 18 visits by cruise ships with a total passenger count of 29,000 in 2000, by 2019 those figures had grown to 815 visits and 210,000 passengers. 

The new ship can spray water up to 180 meters wide and 100 meters high.
Espen Sveberg, Sales Manager, FFS Fire Fighting Systems

The demands on the harbor infrastructure have grown in tandem – especially in terms of safety. It isn’t just that the harbor itself is growing and that the seat of the fire may now be farther away – and still needs to be reached quickly in an emergency. The size and height of the ships that could catch fire also pose huge challenges for the fire department in terms of its speed, extinguishing power, and also protection for the crew. The ‘Branddirektor Westphal’ sets new technological standards in all these areas – a distinct benchmark for firefighting in all European harbors.

Faster, higher, farther

At about 7,200 hectares, the Port of Hamburg accounts for about 10 percent of the area of the city. That’s a challenging expanse that places huge demands on the technical equipment aboard a fireboat. Two diesel generator sets equipped with soot particulate filters and a catalytic converter to purify the exhaust emissions give the ‘Branddirektor Westphal’ a top speed of 12 knots, about 22 km/h. That means it can reach the container terminal from its mooring in under 30 minutes. 


“The new ship can spray water up to 180 meters wide and 100 meters high,” says Espen Sveberg, of Norway’s specialist firefighting company FFS (Fire Fighting Systems). Three extinguishing monitors are responsible for this performance, in addition to two more combined water and foam jets. When in use, the water cannons generate enormous pressure, and the ship has to counter the recoil effect. This is achieved using a dynamic positioning system, two bow thrusters, and two rudder propellers, which keep the ship on course and maintain an accurate position during deployment.


SIRIUS hybrid switchgear is used in conjunction with SIMATIC ET 200SP motor starters to keep the three high-performance extinguishing monitors accurately aligned and fail-safe. Their compact size (just 30 millimeters wide) means all three extinguishing monitors can be controlled from a single control panel to save space. And if a motor starter ever has to be replaced, a warning will immediately appear on the control screens. The hot swapping function means that these changes can be performed without powering down, because the entire system has to remain ready for action at all times. Once the motor starter has been replaced, the system automatically updates to the latest level, and the newly installed device is ready to function immediately.

I love the new SIRIUS hybrid switchgear. It really is perfect. The devices are small, user-friendly, and have many features.
Atle Vogl, Group Manager of Automation Design, Fire Fighting Systems

An important factor in ensuring that the ‘Branddirektor Westphal’ is reliable and unconditionally ready for action is the convenient diagnostic view of all the components and systems installed in the ship. The magic phrase here is Totally Integrated Automation (TIA): The TIA Portal from Siemens makes configuration easy and provides complete access to the technological components. This solution not only guarantees transparent operation, it also makes planning easier: The ability to simulate all system components even before they’re installed means that all system elements will work perfectly together, while greatly reducing the time needed to put it all into operation. 

Seamless interplay makes for safety and saves lives

It’s obvious: A fireboat like this requires technical systems that work together seamlessly. But it’s just as important to guarantee that all the players involved can work together in their respective disciplines: In this case Flotte Hamburg, the Hamburg Fire Department, FFS, the Norwegian specialist for firefighting systems, and Siemens.


The result is a fireboat in a class of its own. “We want Flotte Hamburg to be a standout leader in terms of quality,” says Managing Director Schönewald. It’s therefore no surprise that two smaller ships are already being planned to expand the fleet. 


Everyone ultimately benefits from the performance of a state-of-the-art firefighting fleet: The Port of Hamburg, the local businesses, the people who work there, and the many visitors from around the world. And at the same time, the ‘Branddirektor Westphal’ makes the city of Hamburg a safer place beyond the actual harbor. The ship will also provide support for the Hamburg Fire Department on land as a floating firefighting machine. That makes the ‘Branddirektor Westphal’ a good example of how smart technologies can help keep people safe. 


Picture credits: Siemens AG

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