FALSE PASS, Alaska -
April 29, 2003 -- The afternoon of April 10th marked the passing of a time when the words, "On Deck, Set the Buoy!" would reverberate through Alaskan waters. Bechevin Bay Buoy 11, a green
can buoy, was the last scheduled floating aid to navigation to be worked by the Coast Guard Cutter Firebush and crew, the sole remaining 180-foot, sea-going buoytender in Alaska.
The Firebush has served its country well, spanning tenure over almost six decades and two oceans. The cutter was commissioned on July 20, 1944, and spent the next 35 years servicing fixed and floating
aids along the northeastern shoreline while homeported on Staten Island and later Governor’s Island, N.Y. In 1978, the Firebush transited to the Coast Guard Yard and underwent major renovations to
improve its overall habitability and operational capabilities. From there, the crew transited through the Panama Canal and arrived in Kodiak in August of 1979.
- Photo Courtesy of Fred's Place
Since then, the Firebush has served Alaskan mariners and the country in the waters of the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Over the past 24 years, the Firebush has rescued mariners in distress, ensured
the safety and security of Alaska’s major ports, enforced fisheries regulations, protected the pristine Alaskan environment and kept the "Northern Lights burning bright" through its dedication to
ensuring all aids to navigation in its area of responsibility were kept watching properly.
On its last patrol, the Firebush went out with style. The cutter and crew left on a typical cloudy, somewhat snowy, Sunday morning in Kodiak, headed north and then southwest on a bumpy ride through
Shelikof Strait. The scene upon arrival in the Bering Sea, after passing through Unimak Pass, was quite different. Seas were calm and spirits high as the Firebush prepared for its final performance as
a Coast Guard buoytender.
The delivery was awesome. The Firebush worked six buoys and a shore aid that day. The deck was in constant motion from 8 a.m. until almost 10 that night. After a long but successful day, the Firebush
said a final goodbye to the Bering and headed back to False Pass.
The next afternoon was one of celebration. The work was done, the weather was a balmy 45 degrees and spirits were high. The crew held a bonfire and barbeque on the beach and basked in the enjoyment of
a job well done. The next morning, it was time to head home and enter Women’s Bay for the last time.
The Firebush is not going to be replaced by a 225-foot’ buoy tender like its pier-mate SPAR. Instead, Kodiak is setting up an Aids to Navigation Team that will service most of the shore aids of
western Alaska including some of those previously worked by the Firebush. The buoys will be divided between the SPAR, the Hickory and the Sycamore.
No longer will buoys be worked with the conning officer standing in the rain and snow and upon hearing "Set the Buoy!" bellowed by the Commanding Officer, Lt. Cmdr. John J. Arenstam from the bridge
wing, the deck department standing by while the chain runs out at high speed. Gone are the days of hauling chain in 30-foot increments and standing in the frigid cold, wind and snow to remain on
station for two hours or more while working the aid. The Firebush proved worthy in the harsh climate of Alaska, and thus is named "The Strong Arm of Alaska". The cutter will be fondly remembered by
the many crewmembers that walked the decks over the past 59 years, as is evident in the words of BM3 Joe Scroggin. "The Firebush has given me a broad view of the Coast Guard, I’ve seen some of the
best and worst out there, but in my mind, there’s no other unit where I would’ve rather started my Coast Guard career."
The Firebush will be decommissioned from active duty service for the Coast Guard May 26 at 10:30 a.m. at its berth at the Cargo Pier in Kodiak. Prior crewmembers and friends and family are encouraged
to attend. The Firebush will transit to San Pedro, Calif., where the final preparations will be made to ready it for transfer to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to serve as a vessel in their Navy.