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U.S. Lifesaving Service (Page 3)

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Along the wilds of Barnegat Beach, New Jersey a keeper would have to tramp miles before he could get a crew together, and perhaps by the time they reached the station, the vessel would be broken up and all hands lost.

Civil WarThe American Civil War caused the neglect of the government's shore based lifesaving network. This neglect continued until 1870, when another vicious storm ripped into the East Coast and many lives were lost. Newspaper editors began to call for reform to "check the terrible fatalities off our dangerous coasts" and to revamp the lifesaving system so that sailors could depend upon help "in the future." The year 1871 marked a turning point in the history of shore based federal lifesaving efforts.

Sumner Increase Kimball, a young lawyer from Maine, was appointed, in 1871, the chief of the Treasury Department's Revenue Marine Division. One of his first acts was to send Captain John Faunce, of the U.S. Revenue Marine, on an inspection of the lifesaving network. Faunce noted that rescue "apparatus was rusty for want of care and some of it ruined," some keepers were too old, few were competent, and politics had more influence in the selection of keepers than qualifications for handling boats. In short, the report painted a dismal picture.

Kimball, using his own political know-how and reinforced with Faunce's report, proceeded to completely remake the lifesaving network. He succeeded in gaining an appropriation of $200,000 and Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to employ crews of surfmen wherever they were needed and for as long as they were needed. Kimball instituted six-man boat crews at all stations, built new stations, drew up regulations with standards of performance for crew members, set station routines, set physical standards, and, in short, set the organization on the road to professionalization.

The number of stations increased. In 1874, the stations were expanded to include the coast of Maine and ten locations south of Cape Henry, Virginia, including the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The next year, the network expanded to include the Delaware-Maryland-Virginia peninsula, the Great Lakes, and the coast of Florida. Eventually, the Gulf and West Coasts would be included, as well as one station at Nome, Alaska.

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Last Modified 9/19/2013