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Coast Guard says flares are for emergency use only
Boat crew hit with laser offshore Clearwater Aug. 11
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Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Chase Ryan, stationed in St. Petersburg, demonstrates the proper use of an emergency signaling device at the station Aug. 7. Flares are lifesaving visual signaling devices that can be used day or night to alert emergency responders and fellow boaters to an emergency.
ST. PETERSBURG — The Coast Guard is reminding the public that flares are to be used for emergencies only. A series of false alarms in recent days has cost the Coast Guard significant money and resources.

From Aug. 2 to 7, there were five cases involving flares within the Coast Guard's Seventh District, which includes Pinellas County. One case involving a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft and small boat search crew cost more than $43,000.

Flares are lifesaving visual signaling devices that can be used day or night to alert emergency responders and fellow boaters to an emergency.

The improper use of flares can divert valuable search assets from an actual distress case and place rescuers unnecessarily in harm's way while responding to the false alarm. False alarms tie up assets that are needed elsewhere, burn up crew hours and fuel, and interfere with scheduled operations. The improper use of flares also costs taxpayers thousands of dollars each time a Coast Guard asset is launched to search for a flare sighting.

The cost of operating a Coast Guard H-65 Dolphin helicopter is $11,061 per hour and an H-60 Jayhawk costs $14,318; the cost of operating an HC-130 Hercules aircraft is $17,866 per hour and the cost of operating an HC-144 Ocean Sentry Aircraft is $15,354 per hour.

Flares are instrumental in assisting emergency responders to locate those in need of help, but can be dangerous if not handled properly.

The following are some safety tips the Coast Guard suggests to properly handle flares:

• Treat a flare as if it is a firearm: don’t point it toward anyone.

• Do not look at the flare when launching it.

• Hold the flare at arm’s length away from your face and body.

• Keep the flare pointed downwind from you, others and any equipment or structures.

If boaters plan to use flares for training, they should contact the nearest Coast Guard unit to inform them of their intentions. Boaters should be prepared to give times, locations and types of flares that will be utilized during the training exercise.

The Coast Guard recommends that boaters properly dispose of old or outdated flares by contacting their local or county hazardous material disposal coordinator.

An individual who knowingly and willfully communicates a false distress message to the Coast Guard, or causes the Coast Guard to attempt to save lives and property when no help is needed, is guilty of a class D felony and is subject to a civil penalty of not more than $5,000, and liable for all costs the Coast Guard incurs as a result of the individual’s action.

For more information on proper use of safety equipment and responsible boating, please contact the nearest Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla, or visit www.c­gaux.­org for more information.

Coast Guard boatcrew targeted with laser

A boatcrew from Coast Guard Station Sand Key was targeted with a laser from the shore approximately one mile southwest of Clearwater Aug. 11.

The incident was reported at 10:18 p.m. A 25-foot Response Boat with small boat crew experienced a three to four second blue, green laser burst while on patrol in the area. The entire crew experienced loss of night vision and half the crew received a direct hit from the laser.

The boat crew had to return to the station and receive eye exams.

Recently, aircrews in the area have experienced the same hazard from people pointing lasers at helicopters and endangering the crews. Any laser poses a significant hazard to flight and boatcrews, especially when the helicopter crews are operating at low altitude at night.

The Coast Guard wants to remind the public that pointing a laser at any aircraft is a federal offense.

“It is important to point out that the people committing these crimes are not only putting the lives of our helicopter and boat crews in jeopardy, but they are also endangering the lives of their fellow citizens,” said Lt. Kathleen Sullivan, a search and rescue coordinator at the sector. “We’re asking the public to help us put an end to this reckless behavior by reporting the illegal use of lasers if they witness it happening."
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