Forward operating locations save lives

FOL St. Paul Hangar

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter forward deployed to St. Paul Island from Air Station Kodiak is readied for a flight February 2010. The Coast Guard forward deploys to St. Paul in January to reduce the response distance to a possible incident during the increased crab fishing activity and the aircraft often use the site to stage out of for response case or to refuel and overnight during the rest of the year. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey Solomon.

On Sept. 12, a Kodiak–based Coast Guard helicopter crew helped save the life of a fisherman suffering from heart attack symptoms in a remote area of the Bering Sea. A crucial factor in this successful operation was the availability of the forward operating location on St. Paul Island, where the Coast Guardsmen delivered the fisherman to commercial medevac services for further transport to Anchorage for advanced medical care. St. Paul Island, is one of four volcanic islands located in the Bering Sea between the United States and Russia, and is more than 650 miles from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak.

“It’s a six hour transit from Kodiak plus an hour refueling stop from the time of an initial response to any mariners in distress, critical hours in most situations,” said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander Coast Guard 17th District. “Safety is always my priority, without this location we could put our crews in harm’s way by making them travel greater distances to another location.”

Since the Loran-C station on St. Paul Island closed in 2009, a Coast Guard civilian employee has maintained the facility during the months when no forward-deployed helicopter crews are in residence. In the last two years, the Coast Guard saved the lives of nine mariners by either launching from St. Paul Island or transporting patients to emergency medical services there. They are also strategically placed to conduct additional Coast Guard statutory missions.

Two rescue helicopters from Air Station Kodiak will be forward deployed to remote St. Paul Island in January, but for now air crews will be dispatched from Air Station Kodiak or from a helicopter capable cutter to respond to emergencies.

During a period of budget constraints affecting all areas of public spending, the relatively modest expense of keeping up the facilities on St. Paul Island pays off in terms of increased range, faster response, improved safety margins for Coast Guard aircrews and most importantly saves lives. This is also true for the forward operating locations in Cold Bay, Cordova and Barrow.

“Alaskans can have confidence in their Coast Guardsmen who make the most of widespread resources to support the nation’s richest fishing grounds by protecting our mariners in these dangerous and remote environments,” said Ostebo.

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