Ron Costin: ‘It’s like winning the World Series…there was so much team effort put forth: no spill to water since 2006, and a nearly 10-year record of no lost-time injuries.’
By Hilary Reeves
For Foss Maritime Operations Manager Ron Costin, safety is anything but a dry subject.
Following his 1973 enlistment, he proudly served in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army as a paratrooper, participating in 31 parachute drops – including mass tactical, full combat gear drops that consisted of more than 1,000 soldiers jumping at the same time at an altitude of less than 1,500 feet.
“Sixty-four men including myself had 60 seconds to safely exit the aircraft, and we did so because we didn’t want our brothers to miss the drop zone,” said Costin. “I never witnessed a fatality, or injury that prevented anyone from walking out. I have the same passion and pride here at Foss, including asking everyone to take ownership of their actions and participate in learning.”
Costin, based in Southern California, is the recipient of the 2017 Michael D. Garvey Award for Distinguished Service in Safety.
“Ron has been instrumental in setting the company standards for tank barge operations by authoring our Tank Barge Operations Manual, and has been an ambassador for our key push to zero incidents initiatives which include incident reporting and investigations, near misses, behavioral based safety, change management, and job safety analysis processes,” wrote John Marcantonio, General Manager, and Igor Loch, Vice President of Marine Operations and Assurance, when nominating Costin
“All I ever ask is that if you mess up, you tell me what happened, why it happened, and what you’re going to do so that it won’t happen again – that’s how we get better,” Costin said. “We have everything we need at Foss: knowledgeable people, good equipment, stop-work authority, and the ability to help each other out on every level. Everyone needs to do their part and stay focused. It’s horrible to have to visit a co-worker in the hospital and face their significant other and kids after they’ve been injured. People need to slow down and think about what they’re doing.”
Costin was born and raised in South Philadelphia, raised by his European immigrant grandparents.
“I was lucky enough not to get caught doing all the stupid things I did back then,” he laughed.
He joined the Army after high school, eventually training as a wheel vehicle mechanic, and was assigned to a permanent duty station in Panama where he worked as the company commander’s driver.
“Unfortunately for me, there weren’t many vehicles there, so I spent my time driving the company commander around. The other option was to take long walks through the jungle – someone’s idea of good male bonding,” he laughed.
After completing the Seamanship course at the Lundberg School in 1978, Costin sailed for 10 years as a Tankerman PIC for Crowley under the Seafarers International Union. In 1988, he went ashore as a supervisor. In 1990, he signed onboard with Foss as an operations manager.
“During my 28 years at Foss, I’ve participated in a multitude of start-up projects, served on several regulatory advisory boards, and commissioned several new-build tanker barges out of shipyards,” he said. “I have a multitude of duties within our region, but my mainstay tenure has always been petroleum tank barge operations. I’ve worked my way up through the hawse pipe, and as a result I’m very comfortable working in all aspects of operations. My driving force has always been becoming a subject-matter expert in my field – I’m still working on that though.”
Costin’s team of 28 crewmembers mans four tank vessels, as well as the logistic, operations support, and customer service shoreside departments in their division.
“When I get a lot of calls during the day, I could interpret them as interruptions, but actually they’re compliments because people are asking for my guidance. Even though I tell them I’m trained beyond my intelligence, it doesn’t stop the calls,” he laughed.
Foss’s Southern California team pioneered the installation and operation of both red dye injection systems for its gas oil systems, and its onboard vapor processing units, which substantially reduce vapor pollution emissions during the loading process. Costin’s most recent adventure is providing operational support to the Jacksonville LNG team as it commissioned the country’s first LNG bunker barge. His greatest challenge, he said, continues to be instilling safe work behavior throughout all aspects of the job. He said he found out he was a recipient of this year’s career safety award on a typical Wednesday.
“I was on a conference call, supporting the start-up project team for our new IT system,” he said. “As soon as I hung up, I received a call from an unknown “206” (Seattle) area code caller. I thought it was a telemarketer, and I almost didn’t take it. I picked up and said, ‘Hello, this is Ron.’ And the reply was, ‘It’s (Saltchuk President) Tim Engle’ – in such a matter-of-fact tone! I’m not sure what was more shocking, getting a call from Mr. Engle, or being notified that my group and I had won the award. Basically, I’m just the spokesman who is privileged to receive this award on behalf of my team. It’s like winning the World Series, because there was so much team effort put forth to achieve this award: no spill to water since 2006 – more than 100 million barrels delivered – and a nearly 10-year record of no lost-time injuries!”
Costin has a wife and two adult sons – one serving the U.S. Army, stationed in Afghanistan, and the other serving as a law enforcement officer. His wife works with the disabled in their community.
“She’s both my soul mate and my life coach,” he said. “If I could change one thing about my life, I wish I would have been kinder in my speech toward people in some circumstances, and in other circumstances I wish I would have spoken more directly to others when I felt they were wrong.”
Several years ago, Costin represented the California bunker industry at a public hearing at a Long Beach City Council meeting where the State of California wanted to reinstate a special fuel tax on vessels that call at California ports for refueling (bunkers).
“When it happened the first time, it crippled our industry and literally cut our business in half,” he said. “When it was my turn to speak, I was able to state with truth and confidence about the dedication of my team, their commitment toward zero pollution, zero emissions, and also their activities within the community outside of work, including sports coaching, spiritual outreach activities, gang intervention, and various other community service contributions. My coworkers at Foss are amazing, and they can accomplish any task given to them.
“I want to thank the people at Foss who are in my life – my mentors and my confidents, those of you who believe in me and nominated me for this award, and especially those of you who keep me accountable and remind me that I represent the quality of Foss. But most importantly, I want to recognize the people I represent, who really earned this award and the honor I receive it with on their behalf – especially those who try to do everything right all of the time (especially when no one is looking), because they know that if they don’t do it, no one else will. This is a great honor!”