Station Burlington: waist-deep and charging forward

Written by Lieutenant Nick Barrow and Petty Officer 2nd Class Ayla Kelley

Coast Guard Fireman Peter Sikora holds the American flag tightly in his arms. When reveille is played, he hoists it honorably and salutes until the trumpets go silent. Sikora then wades through muddy, knee-deep flood water to cross through the parking lot of Coast Guard Station Burlington in Vermont.

Fireman Peter Sikora

BURLINGTON, Vt. - Fireman Peter Sikora raises the American flag during morning colors in waders at Coast Guard Station Burlington, Vt., Thursday, May 12, 2011. Station Burlington was flooded by Lake Champlain waters due to snow melt and heavy rainfall at the end of April. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ayla Kelley.

The waters of Vermont’s Lake Champlain and its tributaries were on the rise throughout much of April. As May approached, snow run-off and spring rainfall had lake water sweeping over Station Burlington’s seawall. Even at mid-June, the water remains. And the station’s crews have responded in force throughout the ordeal.

When the lake first began to flood, members of Station Burlington scrambled to fill, transport, and position sandbags around the unit’s perimeter. Tons of rocks and sand were shipped in to build up walkways as crews battled strong winds which were pushing more water into the area every day.

Water levels continued to rise persistently from there. The flood stage for Lake Champlain is 100 feet; 101.5 feet is considered major flooding. This flood hit a peak of 103.27 feet May 6, marking an unprecedented event for Lake Champlain and those who live there.

To prevent water damages, Station Burlington crews lined concrete barriers along the windward side of the station, positioned water pumps to control seepage, and worked round-the-clock regardless of the duty schedule.

“On my off days, instead of getting relieved at 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning, now it’s 2 or 3 in the afternoon, moving sand, pushing rocks [and] moving things where needed,” said Seaman Michael Black.

Always ready - a bridge to the boats

BURLINGTON, Vt. - Boat crew personnel from Station Burlington walk across a make-shift sidewalk to the boat docks May 12, 2011 after the facility's grounds were flooded by the waters of Lake Champlain. Personnel continue to work tirelessly to keep flood waters out of the station building while maintaining SAR readiness. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ayla Kelley.

Remarkably, through creative resolve and hard work, Station Burlington has maintained their unit readiness while protecting themselves from extensive flood damage. Personnel from other Coast Guard units have traveled to the station to provide assistance. Nine members from Sector Northern New England in Portland, Maine arrived with a back-up generator and tractor. Crews from stations in South Portland, Maine and Portsmouth, N.H. provided support for the search and rescue cases that don’t stop just because of flooding.

“We’ve received a lot of help from team Coast Guard overall,” said Senior Chief Louis Coleman, officer-in-charge of Station Burlington.

Once the waters fully recede, a significant clean-up operation will begin. But the diligence of all the crews has paid off. The mission is being completed and members of Station Burlington have maintained positive attitudes about the conditions they face now and the work that waits ahead.

“It’s brought us all closer together I think as a unit,” said Black. “You’ll see everyone doing the same work together. It’s our station and everybody’s just been helping out.”

Sandbags

BURLINGTON, Vt. - Station Burlington personnel lay sandbags inside the station building in an effort to keep flood waters from Lake Champlain from entering the building May 12, 2011. Personnel continue the work as flood water slowly recede while maintaining SAR readiness. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ayla Kelley.