Posted by PA2 Bill Colclough, Friday, April 13, 2012
As the nation remembers the War of 1812 this month, an auspicious irony of history lies in the room like an 800-foot tall ship. The three-year sequel to the Revolutionary War cut off the supply of British goods to America’s east coast, stimulating American manufacture, especially the Three Rivers maritime commerce.
The British blockade of the American coast increased inland trade, so that goods flowed through Pittsburgh from all four directions. By 1815, Pittsburgh produced large quantities of iron, brass, tin and glass products. Then in 1875, Pittsburgh became the “Steel City,” when the Edgar Thompson Works in Braddock, Pa., began to make steel rail using the new Bessemer process.
Along the Allegheny, Monogahela and Ohio rivers, steam ships conveyed the staples of the nation’s economy. A rash of disasters and fires from boiler explosions plagued life, property and an entire industry, often in a singular, sudden boom.
Following passage of the Steamboat Act of 1852, Pittsburgh became the Seventh District for passenger steamboat inspection. One of nine such offices at the time, an agent remarked to the Secretary of the Treasury in an official report: “The powers that the law confers on the Secretary of the Treasury are very limited. A body without a head is a monster; and so likewise is a body with nine heads.”
In 1932, the Steamboat Inspection Service merged with the Bureau of Navigation, and then in 1936 both were reorganized into the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, which in turn became part of the U.S. Coast Guard in 1942.
Currently, Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Pittsburgh secures, inspects and protects the maritime communities and industries on the Three Rivers. Like a torch lit by a boiler, these 21st-century version inspectors and shipmates continue a legacy of stewardship and service for the Ohio Valley area. And, with the advent of Homeland Security missions, they can add sentinels to their roles, too.
With a total of 28 personnel and a budget of about $120,000, MSU Pittsburgh epitomizes the Coast Guard and the community it serves – a compact unit whose missions and members mirror the iron ore pellets smelted from the Appalachians. When prosperity is protected, security follows. Thus, they add up to a good investment in homeland security.
“We protect key population areas as well as approximately $5 million of cargo,” said Lt. j.g. Alanna McGovern, MSU Pittsburgh, response. “We also ensure the safety of high-passenger vessels.”
Plus, the unit boasts some green initiatives. Their heating system, part of a smart building design, features photoelectric sensors that regulate the temperature low enough to keep the pipes warm during the winter, especially when personnel are not present – ensuring as little energy use in the process.
“We adhere to the Coast Guard’s safety and environmental health initiative known as the smart program, which ensures facilities are efficient, cost-effective and safe,” said McGovern. “We’re also committed to a strong recycling program.”
With an area of responsibility that encompasses 328 miles of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monogahela rivers, the hearth of the responsibility are 60 regulated waterfront facilities that conduct more than 2,000 transfers annually, involving more than 50 different hazardous cargos.
Since September 11, MSU Pittsburgh, along with other law enforcement partners, stepped up its role of protecting the waterways within the COTP Pittsburgh zone. Under the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, the unit plays the lead role in developing and implementing the Area Maritime Security Plan, assessing security risks and implementing mitigation strategies in concert with the Pittsburgh Area Maritime Security Committee.
For nearly 200 years, “big job, small service” has meant more than just a slogan on a bumper sticker. The current corps of Coast Guardsmen and women in the Ohio Valley reflect the ripples from an iron ore pellet skipped across Coast Guard history.
Take a rock, paint it black and yellow, then forge it. Left behind is an echo, an epaulet from a steward and sentinel from old, made in Pittsburgh of blue steel.