Engineering a flood response

FARGO, N.D. – As the workhorses of the Red River flood search and rescue operations, U.S. Coast Guard and the North Dakota Department of Fish and Wildlife airboats coast through the neighborhoods and business districts devastated by record flooding of the Red River. The rescue boat crews move swiftly from house to house responding to the cries of help from people stranded or in trouble throughout the towns of Oxbow, Harwood, Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D. Of the 95 rescues by the Coast Guard to date, 68 were performed by airboat crews. But, these heroic acts are only possible through the hard work going on behind the scenes of these rescues.

Seven Coast Guard engineers are responsible for the maintenance and repair of seven Coast Guard airboats that have saved 68 people and a number of pets and animals during the 2009 Red River Valley floods in North Dakota and Minnesota.

The boat maintenance team is comprised of machinery technicians, electricians mates and a storekeeper, deployed from Integrated Support Command St. Louis, Sector Detroit, Small Boat Station St. Clair Shores Mich., Toledo and Marblehead, Ohio. The team operates every day from the Cass County Highway Department building in South Fargo, N.D., starting at 6:30 a.m. and stopping only when the job is done.

“Our goal is to have all the boats ready to go the next morning,” said, Chief Petty Officer Tom Rising, the Ready for Operations chief from Sector Detroit. “The Cass County Highway Department has provided us with tools and a shop to get our job done and keep these boats running.”

Rescue boats from the Department of Fish and Wildlife share the boat maintenance facility with the Coast Guard, dropping off their damaged vessels in need of repair.

“We’ll fix anything,” said Rising “We’re not territorial. We’re all here for the same reason.”

After repairs are completed on the Coast Guard boats, the team volunteers their time to ensure all the rescue boats, no matter their affiliation, are ready to respond in the event of a search and rescue case.

“This is the stuff engineers love,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Peter Marvin, a machinery technician from Station St. Clair Shores, “you never know what is coming at you, and we have to get creative sometimes to get the job done.”

The airboats range from 18 to 20 feet in length and come back from search and rescue missions needing a multitude of different repairs to be operational. They return with overheated engines, broken lights, electrical and communications shortages, as well as body and hull damage.

“I’ve never even seen an airboat until now,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Efrain Fernandez, an electrician’s mate from Integrated Support Command St. Louis. “We improvise and pick up after each other, everyone contributing their individual specialties to complete the projects.”

Sometimes the parts needed to complete the job are not on hand and need to be ordered.

“We have a great storekeeper,” said Marvin, “Petty Officer 3rd Class Stacey Darnell has been working hard to find the parts we need.”

A constant theme in the Coast Guard is that no one job is more important than the other. From the boatswain’s mate who rescues a stranded person to the machinery technician who repairs a broken rescue boat, every member contributes vital skills needed to complete the mission.

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