Admiral Paul F. Zukunft Commandant
Unites States Coast Guard
2100 2nd St. SW
Washington DC 20593-7000
Dear Admiral Zukunft:,
Please reverse your decision to close the USCG Air Station Newport, Oregon. There must be another way for the USCG to save money without placing lives in danger. The closure of this Air Station will increase response time on the central Oregon coast from approximately 15 minutes to 60 minutes or more. In my line of work, we do what we can to reduce response times, not increase them.
I am not a polished politician, I am not a metropolitan Fire Chief, I am not used to writing letters to Congressmen, State Representatives and especially the Admiral of the United States Coast Guard, but this is a cause worth fighting for. The people of this Fire District and this part of the Oregon coast need the assets of the USCG.
The Depoe Bay Fire District serves a small coastal town which caters to tourists. We are protected by volunteer firefighters supplemented by a small career staff. We fight fires, respond to medical calls, car accidents, and often to homes where people just may need some companionship. We are not equipped for, nor are we trained for, water rescue. We rely on the USCG for that and they do a fantastic job.
We were notified on October 2, 2014 that the Air Station in Newport, Oregon would be closed effective November 30, 2014. Now fast forward to a little over a week later, October 11, 2014. My fire district was dispatched to a report of eight people stuck on the rocks just North of Depoe Bay, Oregon.
As it turns out, there were six people on the rocks when the fire district arrived. Several of the individuals decided to jump into the water and struggled to swim to shore. Luckily they made it. Unfortunately, one young victim was pulled from the surf unconscious, to be given rescue breaths by a caring bystander.
This is where your decision impacts the rubber meeting the proverbial “road”. Upon dispatch, I immediately requested assets in the form of a USCG helicopter. I did this first because I know my area and these people were in serious danger – incoming tide, 15-foot waves and very cold water. Secondly, I know that time is of the essence, and visitors to the coast are not often prepared for the dangerous surf condition we often experience and hypothermia is a likely possibility.
We arrived to find six individuals trapped by an incoming tide and large waves. One young man decided to jump into the ocean rather than wait for rescue. He was lucky. Had the current swept him out, there were 18-foot breakers waiting to greet him with the power of destruction that would have been no match for a human body. Our Assistant Chief led the operation, dealing with the victims who were pulled from the surf, as our firefighters assessed the victims on the rocks. Luckily, I had requested a USCG Helicopter, and luckily they were in Newport.
Within ten to fifteen minutes of my arrival, the USCG was saving these people from an uncertain future. They were scared, and could not climb any higher on the rocks. We were thirty minutes from a full tide with 18-foot breakers. This was a dangerous situation and one we face often. I believe the outcome would have been very different if the response time was one hour, versus fifteen minutes.
Years ago the Newport Fisherman’s wives worked hard to get the helicopter here because they understood the need. They will work just as hard or harder to keep it here now. The impact on us will be significant; it will often be painful, and it will be felt often.
There has been a lot of emphasis on saving the mariner, and the USCG insistence that emergency locator beacons make it easier to find vessels in distress. It was stated that the helicopters are faster, and the National standard of two hours will still be met. With all due respect, those arguments do not hold water when it comes to the tourist or resident at the Central Oregon Coast. One hour in our water could mean death. Our water is too cold and too rough for the surfer in distress or the summer time visitor who does not know our ocean, or the people climbing rocks during high tide.
Please do not remove the USCG Helicopter and the fine men and women who make these rescues possible. We hold the United States Coast Guard in the highest regard. We respect what you and your men and women do on a daily basis, but we cannot support this move. As of this past Saturday, you can bet there are five grateful citizens who would agree.
Joshua L. Williams
Depoe Bay Fire District