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Coast Guard trains for river emergencies

Renatta Signorini
| Friday, May 11, 2007

KITTANNING -- Kole Shavalia stood on the edge of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Osage on Thursday outfitted in an orange and black survival suit.

The Seaman Boatswain's Mate prepared to be the first of his crew to test out the 58-degree Allegheny River water.

"I don't wanna get cold," Shavalia, of Michigan, said.

He wrapped an arm around his upper body, used the other to cover his face and jumped in feet first.

Shavalia used the suit's built-in flotation device to relax for a few minutes on his back in the river. He watched about 10 of his shipmates jump in and said, "It's not bad at all."

The Coast Guardsmen docked the Osage at the amphitheater in Kittanning Riverfront Park to conduct training yesterday. The unit is stationed along the Ohio River in Sewickley, Allegheny County. The crew members maintain buoys, sinkers and chains and equipment along the three rivers, Monongahela, Ohio and Allegheny.

Crew members shot signal flares in the air to practice in case of an emergency, such as a smaller boat capsizing or a member thrown overboard, said Machinery Technician First Class Benjamin Mills. The flares are shot with the wind and high in the air to get the most distance to alert someone on shore, he said.

The unit practiced shooting the flares while in and out of the water. With the flotation devices attached to their survival suits, Mills said it is harder to shoot a flare while adjusting to the water's current.

"We do this (training) annually to remind ourselves how cold it really is," he said.

Some crew members were getting their feet wet for the first time since completing boot camp.

Brandon Smit, 19, of Iowa, said he enjoyed his first splash. He was excited to get to shoot the signal flares after learning about them in boot camp, which he finished in November.

After the in-water signal flare practice, Smit took off his suit -- called a mustang -- that holds water in and kept him warm through his body temperature. He put on a dry suit for a survival swim that crew members took part in yesterday.

Mills said the crew comes up the Allegheny to Kittanning once every three months to check on the buoys or drop and place others. Dean Smith is the Officer in Charge of the unit.

The Osage has been on the water since Saturday, Damage Controlman First Class Matt Lubowicki said. The crew began working the Mon river and finished up on the Allegheny.

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