Monday, July 4, 2011

Week 7 at Prince William Forest Park: Charles Papacostas/Amber Hagan

Wow. This week has been amazing. I could think of no better word to describe what we’ve experienced in week 7 at Prince William Forest Park. Allow me to share with you the adventures of our week.

Day 1 we were scheduled to go to the range inside of the park. Our shift was 8-4 and we worked on our firefighting s130 and s190 online modules until lunch time. Chief Sirk-Fear was in a meeting for most of the morning up until lunch. The original plan was to go to the ranger around 1pm. That didn’t happen, but what did was worth missing out on the range. Charles and I were preparing to eat lunch at noon. I did not bring a lunch and planned to visit Panera bread. I left the LE office and started down the fire road to exit the park. Our scenic drive is being paved so we’ve been accessing the park via fire roads this week. As I was driving I noticed a woman and a teenage girl on the fire road, which connects to cabin camps 1 and 4. I stopped to ask if they needed any assistance with anything and noticed the worry on their faces. The woman had a walkie talkie and was communicating with someone. She also used her cell phone to make a phone call. She informed me that there was a girl down the trail who had a laceration on her leg, but she was unsure of her status at the moment. The young lady with her was also suffering from heat exhaustion. After communicating with her peers she accepted my assistance. I used the radio to contact the chief, but was unable to reach her (the meeting was still in progress). I contacted central to inquire about the location of the chief, because if she held herself out at a location, I would be able to find her that way. Central did not know her location. Running out of options I used my cell phone to dial David Ballam. Dave answered and I told him of the situation and he put himself in service, contacted the chief on her cell phone, and told me he was on his way. Central contacted me and inquired if I needed an ambulance to respond, and I declined, as we had already began the park service medical staff in route and had the situation under control. At that time I transported the woman and teenage girl to their cabins where the nurse station was located. I turned around to head back to the trail head and reach the injured patient. On the way down Sister Sarah was coming up the hill in the mule and told me she had a girl that passed out and was taking her to the nurses’ station. The girl was presently conscious and they proceeded up the hill. As I arrived, Ranger Ballam and Chief Sirk-Fear were pulling up. Several other park units began responding to assist, including SCA members, the EMT and extra hands for a potential carry out. Chief Sirk-Fear promptly got her medical gear and ran down the trail to the injured hiker. She was the first of us to arrive. Ranger Ballam instructed me to stay at the trail head to direct incoming units. Chris Alford arrived with the liter Bruce who would assist him. Charles was able to catch a ride with the SCA members and arrived at the scene minutes later. I directed everybody down the trail and kept two SCA members to take my position, because I had to return to the fire cache to retrieve the wheel for the liter. At this point there were between 50-100 other members of the camping group present and we needed to keep them clear of the roadway. We had previously thought the mule could fit down the trail, but this wasn’t the case. I returned with the wheel and Ciro and I headed down the trial on foot. We arrived and the patient was strapped in and ready to go. There were approximately 15 people there to alternate carrying the litter. When it was my turn, I felt a huge amount of relief. I anxiously wanted to speak to the patient who I had been told about 45 minutes prior when I first pulled up to the woman and teenager. If I remembered anything about first responder training, it was to provide emotional support to the patient. I introduced myself and asked for her name, her pain level, her comfort level, and thanked her for allowing us to transport her. I continued to speak to Melissa throughout the carryout. We got her into one of the groups vehicles and they took her to the hospital. I told Melissa it was nice to meet her and they left. We were all drenched in sweat and relieved at the success and teamwork we displayed. Everybody thanked us and told us we did a great job. This really meant a lot to us to hear. The church group’s camp leader, sister Sarah, hugged me and thanked me for arriving when I did and getting the help we needed so quickly. Two hours had passed since the beginning of the call and I was really feeling my lack of nutrients, and went to Panera for lunch. Charles came with me and we discussed the call. On the way back we got a flat tire. We learned later that two other vehicles did as well. A flat tire was nothing after the excitement and adrenaline rush of the call. For any National Capital Region or Northeast region directorates reading this, this is my new most memorable moment at Prince William.

When I heard Amber over the radio calling for assistance in this medical case I was in the LE office. I was the only one there and did not have a vehicle, but I knew that I needed to find a way over to the trail and help. I was indeed happy that the interns with Resource Management had not left yet and I was able to get a ride over to the scene with them. By the time I arrived, Dave, Cindy and Chris, the park’s EMS coordinator, and several others were on-scene and the patient’s wound had been properly dressed and bandaged, and we needed a few more personnel to arrive before we could carry her out. I was happy to get this experience to help carry the patient out to Burma Road. Most importantly, however, it was great to see the teamwork involved in this carry-out, and there was no way it could have been done without all of us supporting each other and rotating shifts while carrying the patient on the litter.

Day 2 was amazing as well. Chief Sirk-Fear took us to the range. Ranger David Ballam came off duty, and EMT Chris Alford was there as well. Chris thanked me for my help at the call and told me I did a good job again, which made me feel great. Chris thanked Charles as well. We thanked them all for responding when we needed them. Dave told me that Melissa had received 11 stitches in her leg. We were given a thorough safety talk and shown how to hold and use each weapon. We loaded up the 9mm first and prepared to fire. Charles went first. When it was my turn, my hands were shaking and my stomach was in knots. I could hear my heart beating as I approached. I held the gun and could feel my palms sweating. Charles and I have both never fired a weapon before. I took a deep breath, lined up the sights, and fired. The power of the weapon was intense. I emptied the magazine and we moved on to the 45. I could easily feel the difference in recoil between the 9 and the 45. We both emptied the magazine and moved on the AK47. Chris provided this gun to us, fired it a few times, and showed us how to hold it. Chris also showed us how to load, unload, and use the safety feature. Cindy went first and fired it standing and from the ground. Charles and I enjoyed getting to see this. I was extremely nervous just looking at this weapon. I almost passed up the opportunity to fire it, but was thankfully talked out of that. I am so happy I made the choice to fire the weapon, it ended up being my favorite! I really enjoyed the sense of control you have with a larger weapon as opposed to a handgun. Your entire upper body controls the weapon and it feels very secure. Ranger Ballam fired the weapon as well. We moved on to the shotgun and that was a blast! Get it? We fired buck shots and Dave took videos of us firing. We enjoyed firing the shotgun a lot. To end the fun day of firing, Cindy asked us if we wanted to complete a course, which is what we would have to do to qualify those weapons. We both agreed and I chose the 9 and Charles the 45. We fired from the 3 yard line, the 7 yard line, and the 15 yard line. We deviated from the technical course, because we didn’t fire from the furthest point. However, we did very well and both “passed”. At some point during the course you fire with one hand. I chose not to do this, but Charles did. Our favorite part of the course was kneeling behind the barricade and leaning out to fire at the target. We have a video of this, too!

I was excited for the range, and could not wait to see what it really is like to shoot a handgun and shotgun. I had never shot a gun before, and I did not know what to expect but it was an opportunity I was looking forward to for a while. For the first time out, I felt comfortable with the 9mm and the .45 after shooting them. I tried the AK-47 that Chris brought, and while I had some trouble positioning the weapon, I enjoyed getting the chance to shoot one and have a feel for what it is like to fire a rifle. The Remington 12 gauge shotgun that Amber and I shot seemed easier to handle than the AK-47, and the recoil was not at all as bad as I thought. One critical point that both Cindy and Dave stressed was to aim for the center mass of the target rather than go for head shots. When Cindy asked if we wanted to get the experience of completing a qualification course, I was very excited because I did not think we would get that opportunity. It was cool to get a feel for shooting the .45 from various distances. At one point Cindy said I could shoot a couple rounds with one hand on the weapon, so I tried it, and it was certainly much more difficult and indeed something that would require extensive amounts of practice. I was very thankful that Cindy and Dave took the time to take us out there for a few hours and give us an introduction on how properly shoot, handle and hold several different types of guns. It was nice for Chris to join us for the afternoon as well and share his knowledge and experiences. I also got a glimpse as to how much practice it takes to get these skills down, and all the hard work that must be put into this crucial component of law enforcement.

After the range we went with Ranger Philips for the rest of the day. We patrolled and locked the gates and went home for the evening.

Day 3 we worked with Ranger Philips from 2-10. We patrolled to begin the day, dropped by to the office and then patrolled again. During our patrol we stopped by Cabin camp 4. I saw our camp group from the medical call. The group consisted of over 300 people. I immediately recognized sister Sarah. They all thanked us again and invited us to join them for dinner. We agreed, but went to patrol the park before we committed to the dinner. During the dinner they recognized us for our help with the call and the camp cheered for us and thanked us once again. Several of the women I saw the day before came up to me to say thank you. My favorite part of the evening was when I saw Melissa. I approached her and asked her how she was feeling. She said she was in pain and sincerely thanked me for being there for her. This was a touching moment for me to be able to reconnect with a patient. I will never forget her face. We stood up to leave and Melissa asked if she could have a photo with us. We agreed, thanked them for their hospitality and went back to patrol. Our first location of patrol was the Crop House. We arrived and noticed the door was open. The Crop House is a property the park bought and has boarded the windows and doors to prevent trespassing. Russ called central and noted his location. The door had been kicked in. Russ entered the complex and announced himself as a U.S. Park Ranger. Charles and I covered ourselves behind the law enforcement vehicle. We cleared the property and photographed the door. We left and patrolled the park more until the end of our shift.

On day 4 we worked the 4-12 shift. We spent some time at the station because one of the maintenance workers needed some new keys, and Dave wanted to show us how to do that. He needed to make three new ones, so each of us took turns stamping the various patterns into the keys. After we finished with the keys, Ranger John Bueg demonstration on how to use night vision goggles. Soon after this, Dave took us on patrol to get a “baseline” of the park. Over the next few hours we made our rounds through the cabin camps and the Oak Ridge Campground. For the rest of the shift we patrolled and checked in on the visitor center. It was a quiet night, and much to our dismay, the shift was over in the blink of an eye.

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