July 3, 2019 — United States Coast Guard (USCG) Station Siuslaw River has been providing security and assistance for residents and sailors along the Oregon coast since it was established as a lifesaving station in 1917. The Coast Guard’s first presence in the Pacific Northwest began with the construction of 16 lighthouses in the 1850s, one just north of Florence at Heceta Head, and continues unabated to this day.
The manner in which the USCG protects boaters has changed over time, but its goal of providing waterway assistance to those in distress has not.
Station Siuslaw River is part of USCG’s 13th District (D13), headquartered in Seattle, which has an area of responsibility including Washington, Idaho, Montana and the entire Pacific Northwest Coast. D13 has three sector offices to manage operations in the Puget Sound, Coos Bay and on the Columbia River.
Protecting this portion of the coast is the primary responsibility of active duty personnel assigned to Station Siuslaw River. There is a strong support network in place to provide assistance to these service members.
Florence was named an official Coast Guard City in 2017, one of only 26 officially dedicated cities in the U.S. The community has created long-term connections to the men and women who have protected and saved many residents over the years.
Florence has also embraced the current crop of young men and women who spend a meaningful part of their formative years here. This unreserved support is evidenced by the nearly $50,000 donated by area residents to Coast Guard personnel during the partial government shutdown earlier this year.
Supporting the Coast Guard is also the primary mission of USCG Auxiliary Flotilla 05-02, which is based in Eugene but has an active Florence contingent.
Staff Officer Robert Redfern, a member of Flotilla 05-02, has more than answered the call for community assistance by making an unusually generous donation to Station Siuslaw River in his purchase of a brand-new boat for the flotilla’s usage.
Redfern is a retired first responder and felt the need to contribute more than his time.
“I’ve always been a first responder. I’m a retired firefighter, 30 years. When we moved up here to Florence, I wanted get involved in something that would really help the community and the Coast Guard because of the important work they do,” he said. “I bought the boat a year ago, in June, and I wanted to turn it into what we call a ‘facility’ and make it part of the Department of Homeland Security.”
Redfern’s offer to loan his boat on a long-term, open-ended basis for use by Station Siuslaw River required some additional equipment and a final inspection by the Department of Homeland Security, which took place in June.
To be approved, Redfern added more sophisticated communication equipment, extra life jackets and another anchor, fire extinguisher, extra cleats and a Samson Pole, as well as emergency lights and spotlights — all of which he paid for.
Brad Hooper is the Vice Flotilla Commander for USCG Auxiliary 05-02, and he believes the support provided to the active duty elements of Station Siuslaw is essential to mission fulfillment.
“The Coast Guard uses the term ‘force multiplier’ and that’s one of the primary missions the Auxiliary has. We supplement the Coast Guard,” Hooper said. “The reason that Bob got that specific boat is because that is the most common boat on this river, the 22-foot aluminum hull, and because that is the most common boat we have to rescue. We have five boats in our flotilla and four of them are exactly like his.”
The increasing amount of work required of the USCG has also driven the nationwide trend of enlisting other sources within the communities they serve to help fulfill the overall mission.
BMSC Jay Nilles, officer in charge of USCG Station Siuslaw River, said the contributions made by Auxiliary Volunteers, here and across the country, is significant in a number of ways.
“The work of the Coast Guard Auxiliary is unmatched to any other volunteer organization,” he said, using the key phrase “force multiplier” again. “By utilizing our 26,000 Auxiliary forces Coast Guard wide, we are able to add 3.8 million hours in support of the Coast Guard Operations, in the classroom, at the boat-ramp and piers conducting vessel safety exams, operating 1800 Auxiliary vessels, 160 aircraft, 1,400 radio facilities and, greatest of all, volunteering in numerous different positions at various Coast Guard units around the country.”
According to the USCG, the mission of the USCG Auxiliary is threefold: to provide trained crews and facilities to augment the Coast Guard and enhance safety and security at our ports, waterways and coastal regions; to support Coast Guard operational, administrative and logistical requirements; and to promote and improve recreational boating.
“Like the fire department and the Coast Guard, the bulk of our time is spent training and getting ready for the actual call,” Hooper said. “We practice towing because towing a disabled boat is really our primary thing out there. And we will absolutely respond to a life-saving situation, especially if we are the closest boat — and even if we are not, we will go help. And we are an extra boat to help out mariners. So, when we are out there, we are looking for disabled mariners that have run out of gas, or heaven forbid, taking on water — any problem that they need to respond to — which frees (Station Siuslaw River) up to go on lifesaving missions.”
Hooper was recognized this week for his dedication and commitment by the active duty personnel at Station Siuslaw River. He was presented with a plaque and a commendation for his contributions by Nilles, who was effusive in his praise of Hooper.
“Mr. Hooper received an overwhelming amount of votes for the unit’s Sailor of the Quarter for his dedication and devotion to Station Siuslaw River. He has volunteered countless hours standing watch in our communications center being the voice of the Coast Guard for mariners in distress, as well as assisting in the training and mentoring of our newly reported folks who are training to earn their certifications as well,” Nilles said. “By his countless hours standing watch, he has allowed us to get more crewman underway to complete their training, as well as participate in shore side training and add to our workforce.”
Nilles is personally familiar with the dedication of Auxiliary members, as his family has a long tradition of participation.
“I was born into the Coast Guard Auxiliary. My grandfather, grandmother, father and mother were all active in the CG Auxiliary. So, growing up, becoming a member of the auxiliary and joining the Coast Guard seemed like a natural path way of life for me,” he said. “I became a certified Station Watchstander between my junior and senior year of high school, so Brad’s dedication means a lot to me personally.”
Flotilla 05-02 also participates in a number of local summertime water-related events.
“We were just in Dunes City for the triathlon and we will be on the river for the Fourth of July. This weekend, we will be on Siltcoos for the fireworks at Darlings Marina,” Hooper said. “Our role is to be outside the perimeter and to keep any boats from coming into that space, to use the space or water ski through it while the fireworks are being launched.”
The primary mission of both the USCG and the Auxiliary is ensuring safety for the boating public, and Nilles wants to remind recreational boaters to take some basic steps to stay safe over the holiday weekend.
“This Fourth of July, we must remind people that boating safety is paramount. Many people use alcohol during their holiday celebrations and we want to remind people that boating and alcohol don’t mix,” he said. “Secondly, the wearing of life jackets. The modern life jacket is comfortable and designed for all types of body sizes and is your best weapon to prevent drowning should you enter the water.”