Monday, January 26, 2009

Trauma Star Redux

The Monroe County Commissioners are supposed to debate yet again the value our three million dollar county funded air ambulance service. The voters of the county last year decisively voted in favor of keeping the ambulance called Trauma Star, while not eliminating the privately funded service called Lifenet. County Commissioners want to put out a request for bids from private air ambulances instead of knuckling under and agreeing to keep Trauma Star as we the voters requested in the non binding vote.
The big difference between Lifenet and Trauma Star is money. Lifenet promises not to come after you if you can't afford to pay and if you believe that someone needs to sell you the seven mile bridge. Trauma Star is funded by a parcel tax, $50 in the Lower Keys furthest from Miami and $27 in the Middle Keys. The Upper Keys are already paying a tax and are exempt from this funding program. These monies pay for Trauma Star which will thus charge patients nothing for the flight to Miami above what their insurance ( if they have any) will pay for.
To cement the debate in the average person's mind one needs to know a flight to Miami by air ambulance from these Keys costs around $16,000. I firmly support the presence of Trauma Star in these islands and so will you if you visit the Keys, fall off your scooter or get hit in the head with a coconut or burn yourself in an outboard motor fire. The flight to Miami hospitals saves hundreds of lives a year and i can't understand why the newly elected county commissioners won't get on with supporting what we the voters have asked for.
On the political front we ousted in spectacular fashion the cruddy economists represented by Commissioners McCoy and Spehar and replaced them with new commissioners who promised to be responsive. Ho hum. At least this crowd aren't planning on buying restaurants or spending tens of millions on useless building upgrades at a time when there is no money. But Trauma Star exists, it works, and it gives us peace of mind, even those of us with quality health insurance. It seems we can't get away from electing zombies. What a drag.

CGC Mohawk

There is a military looking ship tied up at the Truman Waterfront docks, it's actually a floating museum and it's open to the public for a modest fee:The US Coastguard cutter Mohawk was built in 1934 as a light ice breaker (!) for use in the Hudson River and it was designated as a Coastguard Power Gunboat (WPG). The Mohawk saw years of active service helping convoys across the freezing waters of the North Atlantic:After the war the Mohawk served in the Coastguard for years until its engines literally gave out and it was towed to a scrap yard. By some miracle this ship, the last of its kind, was saved by a bunch of devoted former shipmates and it is still undergoing the process of restoration in it's berth:The ship served with distinction during the Atlantic convoys, facing off against German submarines, a fact proudly recorded in paint:The ship's crew saved 500 sailors from drowning and lost one's ship's dog overboard. The captain refused to turn back to save the frantically paddling dog and suffered the hatred of the crew for the rest of his time on board; such is the force of sentiment even in the middle of a war... and the story is still told by the devoted restorers working on the ship today.The Mohawk attracts loyalty not only from former crew members but from the people who currently operate and maintain the ship at the dock. They have amassed a huge quantity of artifacts from the period and they talk avidly to former crew who come back to visit the old ship. The visit starts with a meet and greet with the man taking the money. He showed us pictures of the ship in action and pictures of the ice that covered the superstructure during winter convoys: The visit is self guided with the entire ship pretty much open to inspection and quite fascinating it is too, as the shop is filled with artifacts from the time it served in the war. First the galley (kitchen) where they made all meals for the 100 sailors and 14 officers on board. The stove operated on engine oil and apparently that same fuel seasoned the food according to some of those artifacts I mentioned earlier:Then there was the radio room with it's type writers and it's radio equipment. And a photograph. I was told the operator photographed still comes back to the ship every year to keep an eye on it's restoration progress:From the radio room there are steep steps to descend to lower levels:To the wardroom, the communal area of the ship where people hung out together. The silver barrel in the foreground is a coffee urn, and the literature advises the tables in the background were well illuminated so they could double as operating tables...The men shared modest quarters, all 100 of them, the petty officers shared smaller cabins but used the same primitive bunks to sleep on:The officers in the rear of the ship (abaft) got greater comfort with more privacy and more luxurious bunks. However the whole proposition of putting to sea in a narrow beamed 165-foot ship was likely to be pretty rough. The ship rolled like crazy, something that was illustrated in a video made from an 8 millimeter film shot in Greenland in 1942. The video showed the successor to the drowned dog, called "Ricky Bow Wow" playing on the ship (his id card is on display next to the television):Then we saw crew members trying to stay upright as the ship plowed through relatively small waves in the North Atlantic. I got seasick just watching the video:The modern crew member and restorer we met in this area, Chip the ship's engineer, had tons of stories to tell about life on board the ship and encounters with crew including a former enemy. One notable U-Boat Captain came to visit the Mohawk told of seeing the Mohawk through his periscope while cruising for convoys to blow up. Chip kept Bruce and Celia entertained and I listened with one ear while I meandered with my camera: It was a great place to wander, check out the old pin ups (Mae West) and newspaper clippings of one sort or another, including the ship's newsletter:And an original poster:And there was the depth charge itself ready for launch on deck:It was a cold windy day when Bruce, Celia and I visited the Mohawk, so they huddled and listened to the stories below decks out of the cold north wind while I wandered the corridors:Then I poked my head into the steering compartment which housed the spare wheel:Before heading on deck to brave the breeze and check out the topsides, working my way forward, starting at the fantail:The Truman Waterfront seawall is a good place for the old ship to be tied up. It puts Mohawk right in the middle of the action, across from the cruise ships and in the same basin as the National Marine Sanctuary patrol boats, not to mention the current crop of race boats in town for the annual Southern Ocean Racing Conference sailing regatta. And the seawall is also part of the old navy base which is still visible in parts:Indeed when this was an active Navy port this very seawall was where submarines, similar to Mohawk's old nemesis, were tied up. Happily those were friendly submarines, but not nearly as friendly and as welcoming as Mohawk is today.