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Forest Rangers - Search & Rescue Air Boat

Last Updated 03/05/18 @ 1056

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.

Forest Rangers Granted Full Police Status

In 2006, DEC forest rangers were granted full police officer powers under legislation approved by the state legislature and signed by Gov. George Pataki.

The legislation allows forest rangers to perform police duties, and came in response to the varied situations forest rangers encounter, particularly while patrolling state lands in more urban areas of the state.

The job of forest ranger has evolved to its present status, that combines the skills of both the traditional firefighter and police officer. Forest rangers are responsible and authorized to enforce all the laws of the State of New York, with greater emphasis on the environmental conservation law. Due to the unique nature of their job, they are now afforded the protections of Section 1.20 of the Criminal Procedure Law.

Col. William F. Fox - The Father of the New York State Forest Rangers

Colonel William F Fox, Superintendent of Forests, was instrumental in the creation of the ranger force which came about in 1912, three years after his passing.

Fox visited Germany to study scientific forestry methods in the early 1870's and went on to become assistant secretary to the Forest Commission in 1885, and then the first Superintendent of Forests in 1892.

As early as 1898 Col. Fox was recommending "a more compact and systematic organization of the corps of firewardens" and the "appointment of an assistant who shall be designated as the supervisor of firewardens or chief firewarden." He went on to say "I would embrace this opportunity also to call attention to the urgent need of some efficient system for patrolling the Adirondack and Catskill forests. To this end I would suggest the organization of an adequate force of forest rangers who should be assigned to districts of a suitable area, which should be patrolled constantly and thoroughly."

In 2009 Deputy Commissioner Hamilton and a cadre of rangers gathered to honor Col. Fox's memory on the 100th anniversary of his passing.

An NYS DEC Photo         

2016-Graduates from the Latest Academy

Congratulations and welcome to following new members of the New York State Forest Ranger Force; Forest Rangers Yuko Ashida, Hopewell Junction, Forest Ranger Adam J. Baldwin, Tupper Lake, Forest Ranger Jared T. Booth, Morrisonville, Forest Ranger Katherine M. Fox, West Nyack, Forest Ranger John A. Franceschina, Fort Montgomery, Forest Ranger Andrew S. Lewis, Wilmington, Forest Ranger Dylan T. McCartney, Bainbridge, Forest Ranger Melissa L. Milano, Newcomb, Forest Ranger Peter F. Morehouse, North Creek, Forest Ranger Hannah R. O'Connor, Lake Clear, Forest Ranger Brandon S. Poulton, Newcomb, Forest Ranger William F. Roberts, Groton, Forest Ranger Zachary L. Robitaille, Depew, Forest Ranger Matthew J. Savarie, Schroon Lake, Forest Ranger Nathan J. Shea, Westernville, Forest Ranger Nathan M. Sprague, Williamsville and Forest Ranger Ryan P. Sullivan, Poland, NY.

A Fire Tower in Brooklyn

In 2016 a massive commercial and service project known as Industry City in Brooklyn became a reality providing a variety of retail and service opportunities to the area. A requirement of the project was to provide certain "open space" opportunities. One such space or "court yard" as it's called is a forested setting and the home of the former Moosehead Mountain Fire Tower that once stood in southern St. Lawrence County, making it the southern most fire tower in New York State and the only one with a clear view of the Statue of Liberty.

Photo Courtesy of Industry City

Forest Ranger Murray Honored - His name Added to the Fallen Firefighters Memorial

On October 10, 2017, Forest Ranger Raymond Murray was recognized and honored by having his name added to a group of 2523 others who lost their lives in the line of duty. The ceremony was held at the Fallen Firefighters Memorial at the Empire State Plaza in Albany. The ceremony honored Murray and five other firefighters who lost their lives, along with one hundred and twelve New York City Firefighters who seccumed to illnesses contracted due to their involvement during and after the fall of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001.

A Murray Family Photo
Aerial detection got off to a rough start with a fatal accident on the first detection flight of the 1970 fall fire season in western New York. Just after take-off, the plane piloted by Jack Marvin crashed in the village of Hammondsport seriously injuring himself and District Ranger Bob Roche. The only immediate fatality was Forest Ranger Raymond Murray of Addison, New York. Several days later, pilot Marvin succumbed to his injuries.