Coast Guard Fireman's Quick Thinking Saves Life


Quick reflexes and fast thinking were put to the test late on a late Friday afternoon when the Station Bodega Bay, Calif., duty crew sprinted into action at the sound of the search and rescue alarm.   Fireman Jacob Smith, who been stationed at Bodega Bay for the past three years, was a crewman on the 47-foot motor lifeboat that launched when they received word of a fishing vessel that was taking on water with two people aboard.

The mayday call came in from the 35-foot fishing vessel Yardbird stating the vessel was rapidly taking on water one mile from shore. Within nine minutes the crew had launched and was on their way to the fishermen in distress. There was not a minute to spare; they knew just how crucial their fast response would be to the lives of those in danger.   The Coast Guard crew arrived to find the boat listing to starboard with the fishermen in the act of jettisoning crab pots. Despite the fishermen’s best efforts, the Yardbird began settling on the starboard side and started to capsize. The lifeboat crew positioned themselves, getting ready to recover the fishermen, and started to call out to the Yardbird’s crew to prepare them to jump into the water.   The fishing vessel’s captain entered the pilot house as his crewman jumped into the 50-degree water. The coxswain, Petty Officer 3rd Class Matt Foussadier, maneuvered alongside as Smith called to the captain and coaxed him back out of the pilot house where the captain was already in waist-deep water on the deck.  

Smith reacting quickly and without hesitation reached out with a boathook to the captain who was now immersed in water and in danger of having the vessel capsize on top of him. Smith was able to get the tip of the boathook to the master of the fishing vessel and yank him clear of danger just as the boat’s outrigger crashed down barely missing him.   “Smith’s example should make all rescue crews take notice” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Aaron Bretz, officer-in-charge at Station Bodega Bay. “His efforts show that the most junior members of our crews are often in critical positions to take action and to save a life. This even extends past Fireman Smith to everyone supporting him as he’s reaching out from the side of the lifeboat to save a human life. From the crewmember checking off the boathooks on morning boat checks to the Yeoman making sure Fireman Smith gets paid, we all make an impact in mission execution.”

Smith’s reaction to grab a boat hook, unprompted and without direction, saved the man’s life and is an excellent example of the initiative and dedication of our crews regardless of paygrade.   While Smith’s actions were exemplary, so too was the initiative from his fellow lifesavers. The crew consisted of Foussadier, coxswain; Petty Officer 2nd Class Matt Merel, engineer; Petty Officer 3rd Class Trevor Armstrong, crewman; and Smith, crewman.   The fast response time of the crew and Smith’s reaction to the evolving rescue operation directly resulted in the rescue of the two fishermen. His actions proved that even if you aren’t the most experienced member of a team, your actions can, and will, make a difference.

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