Forest Rangers - Search & Rescue Airboat

Final Update: 04/11/2018 @ 1600

Forest Rangers Receive Their First Airboat
To aid in whitewater search and rescue efforts the first of several airboats was acquired in 1991. It was launched at the Port of Albany with all the pomp and circumstance normally saved for the launching of ocean going vessels. Many emergency service organizations were present as Commissioner Jorling passed the keys of the craft over to Bureau Superintendent, Col. Ed Jacoby.

The Forest Ranger Strategic Plan

After a failed attempt at developing a strategic plan by the Division of Lands and Forests, it was concluded that the Division was too diverse to reach consensus on any of the larger issues. Consequently, the ranger supervisors felt confident that they could develop their own plan for the Bureau of Forest Protection and Fire Management. The twenty page document they produced shocked the agency as it was far reaching.

The plan called for the creation of a Division of Forest Rangers, removing them from the Division of Lands and Forests. It also called for the return to the earlier command model, where information and direction flowed directly from the Division Office to the regional captains and on to the rank and file, thus doing away with all the problems operating under a matrix form of management.

The most contentious of the provisions was the upgrade of the ranger force from peace officers to that of police officers. While many thought that these were all way out of reach, their more recent history shows that all have been accomplished.

The Search for Sara Anne Wood

The most protracted search effort in recent times was that for twelve year old Sara Anne Wood in August of 1993.

Young Sara was returning by bicycle from the church where her father was pastor to their home a short distance away when she disappeared. During the initial search, her disabled bicycle was located in a wooded area next to Hacadam Road Rd. Four hundred volunteers searched a three square area in the event that she had somehow left the road and had injured herself, but to no avail.

As the rangers and volunteers completed their search of the immediate area, the state police investigation was considering a darker and more sinister scenario. Once the ground search was completed the state police continued with roadside searches over an extended area thinking strongly that foul play was involved.

Forest Rangers Are Issued New Sidearms

After much consideration and evaluation, the forest ranger's firearms instructors recommended that the old Smith & Wesson, 357 magnum revolver be replaced with the SIG Sauer, Model P229 DAK, 40 cal. pistol.
Fire Tower Restorations

With all of the fire towers now closed, the Department was looking to remove those that remained for concerns about public safety and vandalism. In 1992, Pharaoh Mt. Tower suffered the greatest indignity of all as it was cut down by persons unknown, some say over local issues. A short time later Blue Mt. Tower was vandalized but the tower was not destroyed. Furnishings from the cabin were burned, windows were broken in both the tower and cabin, and an unsuccessful attempt was made to burn the cabin. These two acts brought fire tower restoration and preservation to the forefront.

Blue Mt. would be the first of numerous fire towers across the state to be restored for future generations. This was a joint effort among several entities. According to an article in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Department at Ray Brook, and in particular Forest Ranger Greg George, the Town of Indian Lake, Hamilton County and the Adirondack Architectural Heritage group were all participants in the Blue Mountain Project. Private donations and a grant from the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors helped make the project a reality.

The Microburst in the Northwestern Adirondacks - July 15, 1995
The microburst was a weather phenomenon that can be far more dangerous and damaging than a tornado. Straight line winds was another name for what caused 300,000 acres of damage, ranging from minor to total as depicted below, in southern St. Lawrence and northern Herkimer counties. Winds in excess of 100 miles an hour swept over the area in the early hours of July 15, 1995 blocking highways, disrupting electricity and leaving hundreds of hikers and campers stranded in what's called the Five Ponds Wilderness Area. The rangers instituted one of the biggest rescue operations in their history, air lifting or escorting the stranded to safety. When it was finally over, sixty six people were provided assistance ranging from simply being escorted to safety, to being rescued by helicopter.

Forest rangers survey the damage caused by the microburst in an area south of the Hamlet of Wanakena.

The Serious Wildfire Season on Long Island - August 1995

Shortly after the Microburst, the rangers were called to Long Island to assist with the wildfires that burned through scrub oak and pitch pine damaging or destroying numerous homes. A stubborn fire at the center of the Long Island Pine Barrens had consumed more than 2,500 acres of dry brush at Rocky Point.

The second and much larger fire, the Sunrise Fire, engulfed both sides of Sunrise Highway. While numerous fire departments from across the Island fought the fire head on from the ground, it was here that the forest rangers ...

... were tasked with oversight and coordination of the three New York State helicopters and five New Jersey Stearman Bi-planes that had vast experience fighting fires in the NJ Pine Barrons. By early September, the Sunrise Fire was extinguished, but the results of those two fires were disastrous. Approximately 7,000 acres had burned, numerous homes and small businesses suffered damage, and 400 people were forced to evacuate their homes.

Throughout the incident, little recognition was given to the dozens upon dozens of volunteer and paid fire departments and the hundreds upon hundreds of people on the ground, fighting the blaze, or providing other valuable support. Most of the rhetoric at the time, surrounded the need and use of the federal behemoths pictured here which really weren't suited for use in populated areas.

The Forest Ranger Division is Created

The first and one of the most notable changes brought about by the Forest Ranger's Strategic Plan, was the creation of the Forest Ranger Division in 1996. Formerly a bureau within the Division Lands and Forests, the ranger force was now equal is status. A short time later, on the commissioner's level, the new Office of Public Protection (OPP) was established. Included within OPP were the Division of Forest Rangers and the Division of Law Enforcement.
A Severe Ice Storm Hits Northern New York

In January of 98, life as we all know and accept it, ceased to be. A storm, six days of rain with temperatures around the freezing mark, severely affected northern New York and New England as well as southern Canada. The storm interrupted all forms of travel, damaged vast acreages of forests, knocked out power in large areas, stripped power lines from poles for miles, destroyed major transmission towers, all leaving the affected populous essentially house bound and reliant upon communities coming together and Yankee Ingenuity to keep their families fed and warm. After the storm abated, it was weeks before all the damage, to the electrical grid and travel corridors, was repaired.

The rangers, worked along with thousands for emergency service personnel and volunteers to get through the crisis and attempt to prevent any loss of life. There were a few fatalities, but if memory serves correctly, no one died from the cold. A few accidents and/or foolish actions caused a handful of people to lose their lives.