Robert F. Kennedy once said, "Tragedy is a tool for the living to
gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live." One Coast Guard member has
found his inspiration and is using his tragic experience as a tool to
On April 5, Michael R. Moss, a second class petty officer stationed
with the Maritime Safety and Security Team (MSST) 91106 in New York,
stood silently behind a podium as he watched members from the New Jersey
State Police, New Brunswick, Brick Township and Ocean County police
departments file into their chairs at Coast Guard Station Shark River in
Avon, N.J. They were there to see him. They were there to learn.
Sgt. Christopher Rogers, a New Jersey State Police trooper and
former Coast Guardsman, arranged for Moss to speak to members of the
state and local police marine units to instill in them the importance of
respecting the environment they work in.
"Moss's story brings some realism to what it is we do out here,"
Rogers said. "Complacency kills,"
Recently, the New Jersey State Police marine units purchased the
MSD 575 tactical dry suit, manufactured by Mustang Survival, and the
same suit used by the MSST's in New York. Moss's presentation served as
an opportunity to demonstrate the proper wear and donning procedures of
the suits as well as to possibly save the life of a trooper who may find
himself in trouble on the water.
Moss, who is originally from Youngstown, OH, was drawn to the Coast
Guard for its unique law enforcement missions and, of course, who can
resist the images of the 41-footer crashing through the waves to save
the life of people in peril on the water?
Moss was a machinery technician third class at Station Niagara,
N.Y., in 1999. He spent the next several years settling into the life of
a Coast Guardsman and developing friendships that were supposed to last
a life time. On a cold March night in 2001, tragedy struck.
Moss, along with three other shipmates, Petty Officer 2nd Class
Scott Chism, Seaman Chris Ferreby and Petty Officer 3rd Class William
Simpson were on a routine patrol on the Niagara River. The four
crewmembers decided to venture onto Lake Ontario in their 21-foot rigid
hull inflatable boat to show Simpson, the newest member of their crew,
the inlet. They failed to call in their change of location to the
Chism, the coxswain, turned the boat back towards the mouth of the
river to continue their patrol but the boat was suddenly taken by a
wave. The wave immediately swamped their boat, which capsized,
throwing the four into the icy cold water of Lake Ontario. "We were all
in shock," Moss said. "We couldn't believe what had just happened to us.
My first thought was, "Who saves the Coast Guard when they need help,"
he said. Moss, Chism, Ferreby and Simpson gathered together, trying not
to get separated.
"We decided to try and get away from the boat," Moss said. "It was
really pitching in the waves and we were concerned that it might come
down on top of us," "We could see land; we could see the cars on the
road. We fired off our flares, but no one saw them." The four even tried
to use their 9mm pistols as a sound signal, but with the icy 37-degree
water slipping past the damaged seals of their dry suits, hypothermia
began to take its toll, rendering their hands, arms and legs numb and
"You start shivering and let me tell you, you reach a point that
it's the most painful thing you could ever imagine. Basically you're
being frozen," Moss said. As hypothermia sets in, the body takes all the
warm blood out of the arms and legs and brings it in to the torso to
keep the internal organs protected.
"My arms and legs went numb, and I couldn't think straight," said
Moss. "My thoughts were very cloudy." "That is when I started to pass
The suits' seals were compromised as a result of improper care and
even though the four had the suits on, they were not wearing them to
manufacturer's standards. The dry suits, at the time, were not issued to
each member individually but were used by all members of the station
depending on who had duty. This contributed to the seals being
stretched, which caused them to crack, making them insufficient to
prevent water intrusion. Also, at the time, comfort rings were allowed
on the suits. Comfort rings are "O" rings that pull the seal away from
the neck to make wearing them for long periods of time more comfortable.
After the crew missed their 8 p.m. radio check with the station,
the watch stander notified Group Buffalo immediately that they could not
reach the small boat crew. "I owe that guy my life, Moss said. "Had he
waited 30 more minutes for the next radio check, I wouldn't be here
By 9 p.m. the search for the missing crew members was in full swing
and included three helicopters from the Canadian Coast Guard at Trenton,
Ont., the Erie County Sheriff's Department, the Coast Guard Air Station
in Detroit and the other ready boat crew from Station Niagara. The
rescue efforts were impeded because the missing crew had failed to let
the station know they had changed course. The rescuers were looking in
the wrong place.
Four hours after the crew went into the water, Wilson Fire Chief
Daniel Kerwin and his crew located Moss and Simpson, their arms
interlocked together, floating in Lake Ontario. The two were noticed
after light from Kerwin's flashlight reflected off the two life vests.
Moments after getting Moss and Simpson on board the rescue boat, the
bodies of Chism and Ferreby were located. Rescue crews began CPR on
Chism and Ferreby, but they never regained consciousness. It was
determined as part of the investigation that Chism and Ferreby had
passed out due to hypothermia and drowned as a result.
Following the investigation of the accident, Coast Guard policy
change was inevitable. "The biggest change was to the personal
protective equipment," said Jeff Wheeler, training manager in the office
of boat forces located at Coast Guard Headquarters. "Each member was
issued their own suit so the seals wouldn't get stretched, and of course
the comfort ring was taken out."
Moss has since come to grips with the loss of his friends.
"I want to turn this tragedy into a positive," he said. "I want to
help make people aware of the dangers on the water, and it feels good to
get the message out." he said.
"I would never order Moss to do this presentation," said Lt.Cmdr.
Dimiti Delgado, commanding officer of MSST 91106. He wanted to do it. He
felt it necessary."
During the presentation Moss showed the troopers how to properly
care for the dry suits. He showed them where the seals were and how to
keep them from becoming damaged. Troopers listened attentively and
eagerly asked questions of Moss.
As Moss finished, the audience of 21 police officers applauded and
thanked him for his time and his willingness to share his story. "I
think his presentation was great," said Sgt. Joe Dziedzic, from New
Jersey State Police station Point Pleasant. "Really hits home."
Agencies, like the Coast Guard as well as state and local police
departments, all over the country consistently train to improve their
chances of surviving an incident that otherwise could prove to be fatal.
Moss's presentation was another form of that training. By adding
experience and realism it provided a perspective that was decidedly
different from the antiquated notion of "you have to go out, but you
don't have to come back." He shares a more practical philosophy of