Podcast Episodes

Rangers Make the Difference

July 31st of each year is set aside by the International Ranger Foundation as World Ranger Day to honor park rangers around the globe who are on the front line in the fight to protect our natural heritage. It’s also an opportunity to pay tribute to rangers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

To honor this past Tuesday’s World Ranger Day, on this episode of America’s National Parks, we highlight three stories of National Park Service rangers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

The Dutch Creek Incident — National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Notable Women in Yosemite’s History — National Park Service Article

Ozark National Scenic Riverways Rangers Honored with Valor Award — National Park Service Article


Transcript

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July 31st of each year is set aside by the International Ranger Foundation as World Ranger Day to honor park rangers around the globe who are on the front line in the fight to protect our natural heritage. It’s also an opportunity to pay tribute to rangers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

To honor this past Tuesday’s World Ranger Day, on this episode of America’s National Parks we’re going to highlight three stories of National Park Service rangers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Fighting forest fires is one of the most dangerous occupations there are. With the wildfires raging across the country, we begin with the story of a Wildland Firefighter whose tragedy led to massive changes in wildfire fighting protocol.

Here’s Abigail Trabue
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Andrew Palmer was 6-foot-5 and 240-pounds, with a winning smile. He was hired to be a firefighter by Olympic National Park just four days after he graduated high school at age 18, ten years ago this June.

Twelve days later he had completed his basic training, and was assigned to an engine crew. On July 22, less than a month after he joined the National Park Service, Andy’s eager four-person team was dispatched to assist in fighting the Eagle Fire that was raging in northern California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

The team headed out at 9pm, and after four hours of driving, they stopped at a motel to catch some sleep. Six hours later, they were back on the road. On the way, the tailpipe of their new truck fell off. They reported the problem but kept going. The check engine light came on, but they still carried on.

They arrived at the fire’s Command Post near Junction City, California at 6 p.m. The team’s captain left to get the truck repaired for two days while Andy and the rest of the group were sent to the fire line to begin cutting trees, with the specific instructions not to cut trees over 24 inches thick, because they were not certified to do so.

The captain was on his way back to the crew, having procured a loner truck, and just as he was stopping for lunch, a heartwrenching call came over his radio.

“Man Down Man Down. We need help. Medical emergency. Dozer pad. Broken leg. Bleeding. Drop Point 72 and dozer line. Call 911, we need help.”

The team had cut a Ponderosa pine 37” in diameter. Downslope from that tree was a 54” diameter sugar pine that had an uphill lean and a large fire scar on the uphill side. The Ponderosa pine fell toward the sugar pine, and its impact caused a 120-foot span of the sugar pine to split off. When it hit the ground, another portion of the trunk, about 8 feet long, broke off, crashing right into Andy.

A request for a helicopter evacuation went out quickly, but the smoky conditions were too risky for an air rescue. A team of ground paramedics reached Andy 55 minutes later, with a vacuum splint and a trauma bag, but they found that his injuries were much worse than were described in the original radio call for help. Along with the broken leg, he had a fractured shoulder, and was bleeding heavily.

Air evacuation was essential. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was called in but was told to stand down because a Forest Service helicopter was closer. But the Forest Service unit did not have a hoist and would need a clear landing zone, something the tree-packed mountain slope didn’t offer. The Coast Guard unit was recalled, losing valuable time. Paramedics debated whether it was even wise to even move Andy without further on-site treatment when they decided to clear a zone for the helicopter to hoist him out. The process took twenty minutes while the helicopter waited. Two hours and 47 minutes after being struck by a massive log, Andy was hoisted into the aircraft. He was pronounced dead Thirty-nine minutes later, before he even reached a hospital.

Andrew Palmer’s death, which became known as the Dutch Creek Incident, was a wake up call for the wildland firefighting community. Contingencies for medical emergencies were clearly lacking. An inquiry followed from the interagency Serious Accident Investigation Team. The crew captain was the only member of the team who would agree to an interview.

The investigators pointed to a host of problems that contributed to Andy’s death, including: inadequate supervision with the captain away; failure of the second in command to exercise proper supervisory control by allowing the team to cut down trees above their level of certification and an eagerness by the young crew to obtain a line assignment, among other factors.

The Dutch Creek Protocols were issued by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group in Andy’s honor. His story is part of the “6 Minutes for Safety” program used by thousands of firefighters around the world each day. Every year, on the anniversary of Andy’s death, firefighters train in medical emergency response.

The year after Andy died 100,000 pink stickers were sent to firefighters to insert into their Incident Response Pocket Guide, outlining the communication protocol in the event of a medical emergency.

Today, firefighters on the line ask three questions: What are we going to do if someone gets hurt? How will we get them out of here? and How long will it take to get them to a hospital?

The capability of NPS helicopters to extract an injured firefighter by short-haul is now an important consideration in any fire management plan.

On July 25, 2018, 2 tones sounded over firefighter radios “Stand by for a net message,” the voice said, followed by: “Today, July 25, marks the ten-year anniversary of the tragic events on the Eagle Fire. A fellow firefighter has left us…and we continue on…as friends, co-workers and comrades. We are bound by a common thread as we share in this great loss. Today, let unity bring us together in a special way. Reflect on the moments in life when hope and appreciation serve as guides and change us for tomorrow. Now, please join together to respectfully observe a moment of silence in honor of Andrew Palmer, wildland firefighter from the Olympic National Park.”

“Thank you for joining us in this special moment. Resume normal communication.”

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We now turn back the clock almost exactly 100 years. It was the summer of 1918, toward the end of World War I. Able-bodied men were fighting overseas, and women were tapped to work all sorts of jobs traditionally held by men at the time, including police officers and factory workers. In California, Yosemite National Park, which had just been transferred to the new National Park Service, needed rangers.

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Clare Marie Hodges first came to Yosemite when she was 14 years old on a four-day horseback ride. She fell in love with the valley and came back in 1916 to work at the nearby Yosemite Valley School. She learned the park by heart, and dreamed of being a ranger. Towards the end of the Great War, Hodges learned the park service was short of workers and thought she may have a chance. So she went to see Washington B. Lewis, superintendent of Yosemite National Park, to apply for a job.

“Probably you’ll laugh at me,” she said. “But I want to be a ranger.”

Lewis, either ahead of his time, or just so desperate for workers replied: “I beat you to it, young lady. It’s been on my mind for some time to put a woman on one of these patrols.” He hired her as a seasonal ranger, and just like that, Hodges became the first woman to be a fully-commissioned ranger in the National Park Service.

Hodges spent that first summer on mounted patrol, riding through the night to take entrance receipts to the park headquarters, along with patrolling both the valley and some of the more remote areas of the park.

She had the same duties as her male counterparts, the one difference being that she didn’t carry a gun. It’s not that she wasn’t allowed to, in fact, the other rangers told her she should, in order to ward off animals and attackers, but she decided against it. She wore the uniform Stetson hat but rode in a split skirt. Occasionally the people she encountered were confused. They didn’t understand why a woman had a ranger’s badge.

After the war ended, so did Hodges’ temporary service as a ranger. She married and stayed in the Yosemite area, ranching and guiding church groups through the park. Though her time with the NPS was short, she helped open doors for women whose role in the parks had been limited. National Park Service Director William Penn Mott, Jr., later praised Hodges for refusing to accept conventions and possessing the determination to take on a male-dominated profession.

Women began to be more involved in the park service after the war, but most were relegated to jobs like secretarial work and waitressing, wearing pillbox hats and dresses modeled after flight attendant’s uniforms until the 1970s. It would be thirty years after Hodges before another woman would be appointed a fully-commissioned park ranger. Today, only about a third of National Park employees are women.

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On July 4, four National Park Service Rangers from Ozark National Scenic Riverways were honored at the Department of the Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C. with Valor Awards for their heroic efforts during a historic flood that impacted much of southern Missouri in April 2017. The Valor Award is the highest honor the department awards and is presented to employees for demonstrating unusual courage involving a high degree of personal risk in the face of danger while attempting to save the life of another.

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Over a period of just two days — April 29 and 30, 2017 — the areas in and around Ozark National Scenic Riverways in southeastern Missouri received more than 15 inches of rainfall. Massive flooding set in on the park’s Jacks Fork and Current rivers. The Current River crested at 39 feet near the park headquarters in Van Buren, a full 10 feet higher than the previous recorded high water mark that was set in 1904.

At 5:30 P.M. on April 29, the Carter County Sheriff requested assistance from National Park Service Rangers to perform swift-water rescues of area residents, trapped in their homes with rising and fast-moving flood waters quickly approaching or already upon them. Park Rangers Joshua Gibbs, Lindel Gregory, Patrick Jackson, and Daniel Newberry jumped into action.

The Rangers were all specially trained in swift-water rescue techniques, and regularly performed one a week during the summer months. On this night, they would successfully conduct 30, exposing themselves to extremely high-risk conditions. They ferried from house to house checking for stranded residents using Park Service boats as the floodwaters rapidly rose. They maneuvered under low-hanging powerlines only a few feet above the rushing water, and through fumes from leaking underwater propane tanks.

They then left the boats to wade in waist-deep waters, among the live electricity and propane and raging river, to retrieve people from their flooded homes, secure them on the rescue boats, and guide them to safety.

The conditions were enough to scare even those who had grown up on the rivers, and the Rangers could see it in the eyes of the residents. Three of the rangers grew up in the area, having graduated from nearby Van Buren High School nearby. They were cut off from their own families during the flood.

“Lives were saved because these four rangers risked their own lives to help Missourians in need,” Senator Claire McCaskill said. “No one hopes for disasters like the historic floods we saw last year, but I’m grateful that we have such brave and selfless first responders in our communities—and I proudly join all Missourians in commending them for their bravery.”

After reviewing rainfall data, the National Weather Service says parts of the area experienced a 1,000-year flood event. The heroic actions of these four rangers saved the lives of 30 stranded men, women, and children as entire houses were swept away.

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The toll of devastation from the Carr Fire, one of the most brutal fires in California history rose earlier this week to more than 1,000 homes destroyed and almost 200 damaged. More than 4,000 firefighters are battling the blaze, not far from where Andrew Palmer lost his life. Two have died.

Rangers work so many different types of jobs in the National Park Service, but they’re all there to protect our country’s history and treasured natural preserves. The next time you encounter a National Park Service Ranger, make sure to thank them for their service.

And from Abigail and I to any rangers listening, our deepest gratitude goes out to you for your commitment to protect our lands and history.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, music credits, and more in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com.

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

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