Coast Guard trains Cape Cod first responders on rescue ops at sea
Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
OSTERVILLE, Mass. — "Man overboard!"
Standing in a 30-foot boat, Gus Riley, a Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills firefighter, grabbed a life ring and tossed it high in the air toward an orange life vest bobbing in the slight chop of Nantucket Sound.
"Starboard side pickup!"
Daniel Carpenter, also a COMM firefighter, turned and gingerly steered the boat alongside the life vest so Riley could reach out with a boat hook and snag it, the life ring floating nearby to mark the location.
Even though the life vest was the only thing to rescue, the crew cheered.
The training this week out of the Wianno Yacht Club is a "basic crew member" course and part of a two-part program to bring responders up to Coast Guard coxswain level for emergency operations. Twenty-three firefighters from COMM, Hyannis and Cotuit fire departments took part, as well as three Barnstable Harbormaster's Office employees, said COMM fire Capt. Paul Rhude.
The idea is to better prepare local public safety officials to respond to offshore emergencies, Rhude said.
"They're doing great so far," Coast Guard Petty Officer Crystal Toy said.
Toy chatted about what went right or wrong, then surreptitiously threw the life vest overboard, and the trainees did the drill all over again.
Boats from the fire departments, the harbormaster's office and Carpenter's Falmouth-based, 30-foot, rigid-hull inflatable were used to practice man-overboard and towing operations. Carpenter's boat, which has twin 250-horsepower engines and is a tow vessel, is similar to a surplus Coast Guard boat that the COMM Fire Department is hoping to get, Rhude said.
In the next couple of months, the Coast Guard will be back to teach a boat-operator course.
With Coast Guard stations in Chatham and Woods Hole equidistant from the waters off Osterville, it can take from 30 minutes to an hour for a Coast Guard boat to arrive at an emergency there, Coast Guard and local officials said.
Even the Coast Guard's newest boats would take a half hour on a clear day, too long when someone is drowning or a boat is on fire, said Coast Guard Boatswain's Mate First Class Scott Habershaw, operations manager at Coast Guard Station Woods Hole.
"That's just an insane time," Habershaw said.
It also may be difficult for the Coast Guard to maneuver its larger boats in shallow waters.
Recently the Coast Guard created task forces in Narragansett, R.I., and Buzzards Bay to catalog local resources and training levels, Rhude said.
The task forces developed written, organized plans for how to respond to an emergency, said Habershaw.
With local responders trained to military standards, the Coast Guard can rely on them to respond more quickly, Habershaw said.
The training also aligns with standards adopted by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and the National Fire Protection Association, Rhude said.
If responders weren't trained to these levels and something went wrong, the risk of a successful lawsuit would be greater, he said.
The Coast Guard training is free. Similar training otherwise would cost $52,000 for 20 students, Rhude said.
While the Coast Guard trainers are getting paid during the partial government shutdown, they were unable to bring a Coast Guard boat to the training and had to use their own vehicles to get to Osterville, Habershaw said.
Although many of Thursday's firefighters have experience with boats, the chance to train with the Coast Guard was clearly appreciated.
"We're learning a lot," said COMM firefighter Michael Carney of Marstons Mills. "This is just heaven-sent to have training with experts."