Fishermen and fire drills

[from the stabenow.com vaults, first posted February 13, 2004]

We did a safety boarding on an opilio crabber. I tried to talk the boarding team into bringing back some crab but they wouldn’t go for it. Then I tried to talk Ops into swinging the boat hoist over to pick one of the pots as we went past, but he wouldn’t go for that, either. (Okay, before every crab fisherman I know crashes the website with email calling me a pot robber, I was JOKING.)

Photo F - 2/16/04

It does my heart good to see how much respect the Coast Guard has for the Bering Sea fisherman. Every single boarding party that comes back has good things to say about the condition of the ships they have inspected. Some of them sound almost envious.

The opinion on board is that Bering Sea fishing vessels are usually very well maintained by very professional crews who keep their vessels right up to the mark on safety and do their fishing in the proper season and according to harvest regulations. I think so far on our boardings we’ve found one fire extinguisher out of date and one guy with an expired work permit.

Photo C - 2/16/04

As to how they feel about the USCG, the Bering Sea fisherman is kind of schizophrenic. On one day, we might SAR a fisherman with a fishhook in his eye. On the next we might board his vessel for inspection and cite him if he’s got halibut in the hold when all he was supposed to have was Pacific cod. Still, the other day a skipper signed off the radio by saying, “Nice to know you guys are out there.”

The other military services, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines–they are responsible for our security, too, but what they do takes place somewhere else. The Coast Guard is the service most nearly concerned with the everyday life of the US citizen, with our security, our safety, our commerce.

Photo A - 2/16/04

Today we repeated the fire drill in engineering, plus an electrical fire on the bridge, and a personnel casualty. The more experienced the crew gets, the more the training teams pile on. This time I watched the fire team respond. The alarm sounds just like one you hear in a firehouse and the crew came thundering down the p-ways and boiled up the ladders and yanked big green duffle bags out of wall racks, unzipped them and literally stepped into them and started pulling fire uniforms up their legs. The “casualty” appeared with a bloody forearm, yelling his head off. There is a lot of rushing around and yelling but there is also a lot of buttoning and zipping of other people’s gear, helping your buddy don a breathing apparatus, fetching gear so everyone will be fully equipped. A loud voice is an asset here, either to yell for help or offer it. They call it “command voice.” No mumbling allowed.

These guys have been at sea ten days. A third of them are new to the ship. Some of them are fresh out of boot camp (Seaman Dyer, our “casualty,” has only been in the Coast Guard three months). Some of them have never been on a boat before in their lives. They’re already working together as a team.

The Alex Haley is 911 for the Bering Sea. They are also 911 for themselves.


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