FORT MYERS, Fla. - Many people know they need certain supplies in case of a hurricane, but it may be comforting to know the Fort Myers Coast Guard is the most prepared in the country. For the past four times in a row, they have earned what's called the Sumner Kimball Readiness Award.
"It's not just the gear (or) just the training," explained Executive Petty Officer Randal Keller. "It's making sure that our boats and or platforms are operationally ready to move at any given time."
Coast Guard officers have to rely on a lot of gear, and when someone needs help, every button, light, switch, clip, vest and piece of velcro must work. In the late 1800's Sumner Kimball worked for the Coast Guard before it was called the Coast Guard. In an effort to make procedures and life-saving techniques the same across the board, he drew up regulations that set a standard for all Coast Guard stations. The prestigious Kimball Award is given every other year to divisions that demonstrates an extraordinary state of readiness.
"It's a very tough thing to achieve," said Keller, "and here we've done it over and over again, so I think that shows how good we really are."
The Fort Myers unit has earned the past four Kimball Awards.
"There are a lot of items in each gear bag. There can be up to 50/60 pieces of gear per person," Keller said. "When you've got 46 people here at a unit that multiplies pretty quick."
Two assessment groups visit each station to check on their gear, knowledge, book-keeping and procedures. One tiny reflector missing from one helmet could cost the unit points.
"They are definitely well-versed on safety," said Fort Myers resident Steve Prorok, "and when it comes to hurricane season, it's very nice to have them by because they know what you need."
Keller says it's not about winning the award, but knowing they're ready to help when someone in Southwest Florida relies on them.
"There's hundreds of checkpoints," he said. "Everything counts, and everything matters!"
Although the Coast Guard men and women are tested every other year for the award, Keller says they train constantly when they're not out helping people.