Guardian of the Week – BM1 Tim Burns

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BM1 Tim Burns, Station Point Judith, R.I., winner of the Cmdr. Ray Evans Outstanding Coxswain Trophy.  (Coast Guard photo)
BM1 Tim Burns, Station Point Judith, R.I., winner of the Cmdr. Ray Evans Outstanding Coxswain Trophy. (Coast Guard photo)

Coast Guard coxswains, the service’s small boat drivers, have a long and proud history.  From the Persian Gulf to Pea Island, from Normandy to Nantucket, coxswains have answered the call.  Our Guardian of the Week was awarded the Cmdr. Ray Evans Outstanding Coxswain Trophy, a highly prestigious award considering the amazing feats these men and women perform on a daily basis.

The award is given each year to one coxswain for superior performance, exceptional boat-handling skills and exemplary leadership.  By the numbers BM1 Tim Burns is a formidable boat driver; in 2009 Burns successfully executed 25 search and rescue cases, aided 14 mariners in distress and saved $250,000 in property.  What likely set Burns apart from his peers was the events on the evening of July 23, 2009.

A wicked storm was hurling towards New England and Burns was one of the duty coxswains at Station Point Judith, R.I.

“That day was crazy,” said Burns.  It was the day before the station’s change of command and he had spent all day putting up a large tent and then taking it down when the weather started blowing in.  “The weather was getting worse.  I was already tired and I told one of the other guys I had a feeling something was going to happen that night.”   He should’ve knocked on wood.

Through the evening the storm kept getting worse.

“It was so windy that the whole building was shaking,” said Burns.

The first mayday of the night was from a man aboard a sailboat dragging anchor and slamming against the rocks.  Burns gathered the most seasoned crew he could from those on duty and headed to the scene.  Once there, he put one of his crew aboard the ship to help free the anchor and be his eyes on the boat.

Eventually they were able to take him in tow and pull him from the rocks.  They towed him back to the station and let him weather the storm there for the evening.  Just as the crew was winding down, the phone rang in the boathouse.

The harbormaster at Block Island needed their help wrangling all of the boats that were breaking loose of the moorings.  The crew lit off again but were diverted just as they were approaching the island.  A couple aboard another sailing boat were also stuck against the rocks.

With the weather still deteriorating they turned around and made best speed to the next case.

Burnsprepares to get underway aboard a 47-foot motor life boat. (Coast Guard photo)
Burnsprepares to get underway aboard a 47-foot motor life boat. (Coast Guard photo)

“The weather was really getting bad.  The rain was just pelting us in the face.”  Burns attempted several approaches to the boat but was really making it tough.  “I turned to [one of my crew] and told him ‘I might need to put you in the water.’”

When they realized the couple was elderly he didn’t know if they could make the swim.  “With their age it just wasn’t a good idea,” he said.  WIth no other options he had no choice but to turn his broad side to the seas and let the wind and waves bring him along side the other boat.  When they were close enough the couple jumped aboard and Burns was able to get out of there without damaging the boat and return to the station.

The fire department was there waiting to check on the condition of the victims.  The crew, coming down from the adrenaline rush, was ready to hit the rack, but sometimes there really is no rest for the weary.

Still only two hours after the first mayday the fourth call of the evening came in.  This time a lobster boat couldn’t start its engine and was stranded far off shore.  The crew left for the lengthy trip out to sea and made the even longer trip back with the lobstermen in tow.

Nearing dawn, the crew returned.  With everyone safe, their work was done.

Through the years, at all of the many small-boat stations that dot our shores, coxswains and their crews are always ready to answer the call.    To stand out in this group takes something truly special.  Congratulations boats, you earned it.

Do you know someone in the Coast Guard that has done something great for the service, the missions or the public? Please submit your nominations for Guardian of the Week using the submit button at the top of the page.

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