A look back at 2018 Coast Guard casualty responses

Last year, for the Maine Fishermen’s Forum issue (see CFN Mar. 2018), I dug into the Coast Guard Division I database for information on the casualties to which the Coast Guard responded.

I thought I would do the same thing this year for comparison.

Once again this article will focus on the medico and medevac casualties with some additional discussion of the deaths recorded in 2018.

The opening thought is that there were many fewer medico and medevac casualties recorded in 2018 than in 2017.

That is good news.

Incidents classified as “medico” are those that are less serious.  Usually they are treated on the vessel, and the boat returns to port to connect with emergency medical services (EMS).

Incidents classified as “medevac” require evacuation from the vessel back to emergency services on land.

Medico, medevac incidents

As reported last year, in 2017 there were 43 total medico and medevac casualties – 14 medico and 29 medevac.

The 2018 total is 13 less – or a total of 30 incidents, split as 7 medico and 23 medevac.

The accompanying table of incidents shows the break-down of 2018 medico and medevac responses.

Medico casualties are by no means inconsequential: a severed finger, a thumb caught in the drag, a hand caught in scallop gear.

In fact, for all the medico incidents – except one minor injury event – the vessels returned to port to meet EMS personnel.

This reminds us that, while we had half as many medico incidents in 2018 as in 2017, gear-related injuries are still common.

Of the 23 medevac incidents, 19 were health-related and 4 were serious fishing–related injuries.

These numbers and types of incidents remind us of the importance of having someone on board with CPR and first aid training.

For many of these conditions, a quick, initial response with first aid, or possibly CPR, is likely to improve the future health outcome and reduce the potential for disability or death.


Fishing and non-fishing deaths

Fishing-related deaths in the Northeast have, unfortunately, held steady at right around 4 or 5 for the past nine years.

2011 and 2016 were the two years with the fewest fishing related deaths since 2010 – only two each year.

While is it not noted in the Coast Guard database whether the four fishermen who died this past year were wearing PFDs, it is possible that at least some of the 2018 fishing-related deaths could have been prevented.

The two drownings in the clam fishery (associated with small skiffs) and two gear entanglements in the lobster fishery associated with lobster boats, all happened in Maine.

Three of the four non-fishing related deaths were due to alcohol, drugs, and or on-board violence.

This last category is particularly troubling as this type of incident probably defies prediction and prevention.

In addition to one death in that incident, two other crew members were injured.


Reducing the risks

These data suggest again some relatively simple actions we can take to reduce risks, injuries, and deaths.

To reduce the risks of gear entanglement and struck-by-struck-against injuries, captains and crew should review together the specific hazards of the on-board equipment being used.

When doing highly repetitive tasks, it is easy to slip into a hauling and setting routine without thinking about the pinch points and hazards associated with the gear.

The crew can remind each other to slow-down and observe how gear is moving around on the vessel.

To address injuries, training in first aid and CPR is really a must.

Two four-hour session is all it takes to gain a certificate from the Red Cross or the American Heart Association.  It could help save a life.

Each year at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, I demonstrate a first aid kit that is substantial and full of supplies appropriate for the fishing industry.

This includes heavy–duty gauze pads, a plastic bag for a severed finger, baby aspirin for a stroke victim, Lifesavers for a diabetic, eyewash, wound spray, antibiotic ointment, and so on.

 Stop by the Harvard booth to pick-up the list.  And, in addition, learn how to make re-boarding (AKA “second chance”) ladders.

Finally, the Northeast Center for Occupational Safety and Health – Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing has finished its research with fishermen and PFDs (see CFN Feb. 2019 for more information).

They will have a booth at the forum and then for the next eight months, a PFD van will travel port-to-port in the Northeast so that fishermen can try on the lifejackets deemed easiest to work in, and purchase them on the spot.

If you can’t make it to the forum, look for the van in your port.  


Ann Backus, MS, is the director of outreach for the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health in Boston, MA.  She may be reached by phone at (617) 432-3327 or by e-mail at <abackus@hsph.harvard.edu>.