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President Jeff Johnson: ‘independent streak’ of Alaskans fuels culture of advancement and safety

Cook Inlet Tug and Barge (CITB) crews meet the return of winter this month armed with a series of mariner-engineered safety improvements aimed at addressing the inherent dangers of working in Alaska’s climate.

“There’s an independent streak here,” said CITB President Jeff Johnson. “Alaska is remote. That independent streak really allows people, I think, to think outside the box a little more, just out of necessity. I think it’s hard everywhere, but we’re more independent because our list of options is significantly smaller.”

With fewer vendors and repair facilities, Johnson said, CITB crews first decided safety improvements were needed at the company’s dock and that they could design and implement them themselves.

Engineer Jeff Bamford designed and installed an improved slide-away gangway that’s more robust—sturdier in the Arctic environment—while Mate William Clock created an improved retrieval ladder for Man Overboard. Meanwhile, Captain Eric Nyce assisted in the planning, installation, and testing of a new Man Overboard recovery winch, now present on each of the company’s Anchorage-based harbor tugs.

As a result of these projects, CITB Director Mark Theriault will accept the 2021-2022 President’s Award for Innovation in Safety on behalf of his team.

“I’m proud of the work that our team put forth to develop these pieces of life-saving equipment,” Theriault said.

Johnson, wearing orange PFD, smiles in front of a CITB tug.
Mark Theriault

Theriault grew up the youngest of four boys in Nashua, New Hampshire—45 miles from Boston. After a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, he traveled across the country to Alaska and joined a commercial fishing venture.

After several different types of jobs on the water—commercial fishing, sport fishing, yachting—he turned to the work-boat industry, pursuing his Masters license and starting work for CITB as an operator in the Port of Anchorage in 2004. After more than 15 years on the water, he transitioned into management.

“As Director of the Harbor Division, it’s been a welcome challenge to manage the day-to-day operations, as well as personnel, and the logistical needs of the company. I believe our team here at Cook Inlet is dedicated and always striving for constant improvement.”

Johnson, right, stands with his crew aboard a CITB tug.
From left, Eric Nyce, William Clock, Jeff Bamford, and Mark Theriault.

“We have to think that way,” Johnson said, of safety as a team effort. “And the Cook team really does. We’re focused on making sure the work we do adds to our reliability. We work in some pretty remote places—reliability is a must.”

A fourth-generation Alaskan, Johnson was raised in the state. He said CITB never hesitated to move forward with the projects once they were pitched.

“It doesn’t take much to be safer,” he said. “When you look at the innovative ideas the team has put in place—they’re really simple. But, you know, a lot of thought when into them. Our team looks around and sees what resources we have available. And each person thinks, ‘I can use this to accomplish that.’ And that independence and the ability to always be thinking that way is really important to safety.”

“I’m excited to be a part of CITB’s safety culture and continued growth,” Theriault concluded.

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.