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Justin Ryan’s idea led to a pilot program that gives Cook Inlet Tug & Barge crews immediate access to proper PPE in common (and remote) work areas.

Living “off-grid” in a cabin in King Salmon, Alaska, Captain Justin Ryan knows immediate access to lifesaving equipment can be the difference between life and death. A graduate of Wasilla High School, Ryan’s first job as a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay led to a position at Cook Inlet Tug & Barge (CITB) in Anchorage.

“I started as an AB and worked up to Mate and on to Captain of the Glacier Wind,” he said. “I used to sail deep-sea on ships around the world, and I remembered looking down off the ships and thinking what a cool job it would be to work on the tugs.”

Ryan’s a 2019 Saltchuk Safety Award finalist. He recognized the need for safety equipment in some of the more remote areas aboard his tug.

“My idea was to place safety equipment boxes in these areas so crews would have ample access to proper PPE wherever they found themselves working,” he said.

According to his nominator, these Designated Safety Stations provide crewmembers with immediate access to proper PPE in common work areas – not only on vessels, but also on the barge, in the upper connex, on the ramp, and at the tent. Weatherproofing helps protect rubber gloves, eyewear, hearing protection, and first aid items from the elements, and Portable Safety Units (designed as a backup PPE) are within reach at locations where Designated Safety Stations are unavailable – like when removing ice from a catwalk.

“Justin went above and beyond to implement this program to keep his coworkers safer,” wrote Port Captain Mark Theriault in his nomination of Ryan.

“Stations have been procured and built at a low cost, and the CITB team hopes this pilot program will add to the safety initiatives throughout the Saltchuk companies.”

Safe summer work

In July, the Glacier Wind successfully completed her scheduled dry-docking. The ship is dry-docked every few years, but this year’s list of scheduled projects far surpassed the usual general maintenance turnaround.

“Justin and the entire CITB crew on the job completed the challenging work with safety at the forefront of their minds,” said Jeff Johnson, president of CITB. “Shipyards are places where new and different hazards exist – as opposed to routine tugboat operations – and our crews needed to work with a heighted awareness to remain safe.”

The crew pulled and completely rebuilt one of the main ASD thrusters, completed a full wheelhouse rewiring project, and performed some major steel replacement work in the hull, “all to keep the Glacier Wind performing well and reliably for our customers’ needs,” Johnson continued. The work was completed in 20 days without a safety incident.

“The Glacier Wind has performed flawlessly since returning to service and continues to make her presence known around Cook Inlet.”

Justin with his wife and one-year-old sun pose in front of their Cessna in the Alaskan wilderness.

Refusing to cut corners

When he’s not leading the Glacier Wind, Ryan is at home with his wife, Ashley, and his one-year-old son, River.

“I enjoy flying my Cessna 180 around the state, camping, and fishing with my family,” he said.“I enjoy the challenge of flying and the challenge of working in Cook Inlet. Massive tides and fast currents make for a challenging work environment.”

Ryan believes CITB will continue to grow during the next few years, expanding to different parts of Alaska.

“It surprises me how much work and safety go hand-in-hand when it comes to professionalism,” he concluded. “Our crews continue to make safety a top priority, and we refuse to cut corners.”

Check out the Glacier Wind in action in this 2020 episode of “Extreme Ice Machines.”


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.