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Friday, October 29th, 2010

'We're here to help, but we need your help'

Grand Lake U.S. Coast Guard flotilla seeks members

By Nancy Allen

Larry Baker, leader of the Grand Lake U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary detachment, spo. . .

GRAND LAKE - A U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary member joined sheriffs from Mercer and Auglaize counties Thursday to drum up interest in getting an auxiliary flotilla on Grand Lake.
"The lake's coming back and we're here to help, but we need your help," said Larry Baker, leader of the Grand Lake auxiliary flotilla detachment.
The Grand Lake group is a detachment of the Indian Lake Auxiliary Flotilla of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. It can't become a full-fledged flotilla auxiliary until it has at least 15 members. Twenty five members would be better, Baker said, to cover the safety needs of the 13,500-acre inland lake, Ohio's largest. There are now five members in the group.
Duties performed by flotilla auxiliary members include but are not limited to: towing in stranded boaters, monitoring boater radio communications, search and rescue, providing free vessel safety checks and holding boater safety classes. Indian Lake flotilla auxiliary members and those from the Grand Lake detachment have provided lake patrol during special events such as fireworks on the lake and the Governor's Cup Regatta.
Baker's been trying for a few years to get enough members to start a local auxiliary. There were more members but some became ill or moved out of the area, he added. Baker said enthusiasm about cleanup efforts are expected to bring back people to the lake next summer and a flotilla will be needed more than ever.
Grand Lake was deserted most of this summer due to toxin-producing algae blooms that resulted in the state issuing an advisory that warned against boating and eating fish from the lake. The state has downgraded the advisory to allow boating.
Flotilla members are volunteers. Candidates must be U.S. citizens at least 17 years old and pass a minimal background security check. Training hours required depend on the role or roles each member wants, Baker said. Many courses are provided at no cost.
Flotillas such as the one at Indian Lake are considered part of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary created by Congress in 1939. Auxiliary flotillas have the same training manuals and expectations as U.S. Coast Guard members, except auxiliary members are not armed, cannot board a private boat or issue citations.
Volunteers are not required to have a boat, though those who have boats are needed, Baker said. There are roles available that do not require members to go on the lake.
Members of the Indian Lake auxiliary flotilla now patrol Grand Lake with help from the few Grand Lake detachment members, Baker said. Flotilla members offer three boater safety classes at year at Indian Lake a year, but only one at Grand Lake, he said.
Burl Shulaw is the flotilla commander at Indian Lake. His group performed 235 free vessel safety checks on both lakes this year.
"Over the years we've tried to get one started here," Shulaw said of a local auxiliary. "It would be a relief for us here at Indian Lake instead of packing up and going over to Grand Lake."
Craig Morton, manager at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park, said a flotilla is needed, especially since staff has been reduced in recent years due to state budget cuts.
The division of parks has one part-time and two full-time officers who patrol Grand Lake. The division of watercraft also provides officers that together equal one full time patrol officer, Morton said. Two boathouses on each end of the 9-mile-wide lake house boats from the state divisions of watercraft and parks, the Mercer County Sheriff's Office and St. Marys Township Fire Department.  
"It would provide a lot of peace of mind for me and park officers," Morton said of having a flotilla on Grand Lake. "It would really be an extension of our manpower to cover the lake."

Learn about it:
The Grand Lake U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary detachment is seeking members. Two information sessions will happen next week so volunteers can learn more about the group and what types of roles are available. Auxiliary members will be on hand to answer questions.
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Montezuma fire department, 6805 state Route 219, near Zuma Park.
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: St. Marys Township Fire Department building, 10752 state Route 364
For more info: Contact Larry Baker at 419-268-1141 and leave a message.
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