As I boarded our dive boat after guiding a father and son diving on the intentionally sunk wreck of the USCG Cutter Duane, a distress call came over the radio about a diver who had a problem while diving on the wreck of the USS Spiegel Grove (LSD-32), a Thomaston-class dock landing ship that was also intentionally sunk as an artificial reef. Both ships are in water more than 120 feet deep.
The radio chatter sounded like the diver was using a rebreather (which recirculates the air already used by a diver after replacing oxygen) and had surfaced with bloody froth coming from his mouth.
The captain of our dive boat pointed at a Coast Guard boat rushing from Islamorada to assist the diver.
The injured diver was very fortunate.
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The boat captain of the injured diver immediately had called the Coast Guard. There were a medical doctor and emergency medical technician on the boat who performed CPR. After arriving at the scene, the Coast Guard transferred an EMT to the dive boat and escorted the boat to shore, where the injured diver was taken to Mariners Hospital in Tavernier for treatment.
The Upper Keys Coast Guard Islamorada station, which is located adjacent to Snake Creek on Plantation Key, serves the areas of Islamorada, Tavernier, Key Largo and South Miami-Dade County — a challenging area of responsibility spanning from Long Key to the South West, Biscayne Bay to the North East, and to Flamingo Florida to the North West. It is one of three small boat stations serving under Coast Guard Sector Key West.
The Islamorada station calls itself “The Guardian of the Upper Keys” — a name well-deserved.
The station responds to more than 200 search-and-rescue cases annually and conducts recreational boating safety inspections to help educate boaters.
The station had a humble beginning.
Its first permanent facility in the Upper Keys, established in 1965, was a floating house boat moored in a manmade canal off Snake Creek. The station consisted of 15 enlisted crew members, three response vessels and radio communications using citizen’s band and marine VHF radios.
The current shore-based facility was completed in 1974.
In 2010, the station was designated as a multi-mission post with active duty, reservists and volunteer men and women of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary performing activities related to search and rescue, recreational boating safety and environmental protection.
Today, the Islamorada Coast Guard Station consists of four response boats and 36 active duty members whose responsibilities include ports, waterways and coastal security, search and rescue, drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, aids to navigation, living marine resources, defense readiness, marine environmental protection, marine safety and other maritime law enforcement missions.
The station works in cooperation and shares areas of responsibility with several local, state and federal agencies in the patrolling the waters of the Everglades National Park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and 12 separate Sanctuary Preservation Areas.
Coast Guard Station Islamorada is commanded by Chief Warrant Officer Jaret C. Mats, who has come up through the ranks during 27 years of active duty.
The station is in good hands.
Mats is the recipient of 36 service awards, and personal awards including two Coast Guard Commendation Medals, three Coast Guard Achievement Medals, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terror Service Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terror Service Medal.
Asked what professional and private dive-boat operators should do to better assist help the Coast Guard in responding to dive-related incidents, Mats said: “Safety of life at sea is paramount for any mariner enjoying a day on the water. Ensuring you have all required safety equipment for your vessel and that it is in good working order before you leave the dock is critical.
“If you experience an adverse situation and help is needed, the best way to coordinate emergency response efforts is to use your boat’s radio Channel 16 international hailing/distress frequency to establish communications with the Coast Guard member on duty who will initiate search and rescue assistance.
“To expedite urgent assistance, it is important to state the following when calling the Coast Guard: 1) vessel name and brief description; 2) GPS position; 3) the nature of the distress; and 4) the number of people on board.
Mats went on to emphasize that, “Effective communication in any search-and-rescue mission is vital in coordinating timely response efforts between the mariner in distress and the Coast Guard.”
The U.S. Coast Guard is one of the five armed forces of the United States and the only military organization within the Department of Homeland Security. It has safeguarded the America’s maritime interests since 1790. It focuses on maritime safety, security and environmental stewardship.
For more on the U.S. Coast Guard, visit: http://www.uscg.mil/top/about/.
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