Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Week 8 at Prince William

This week has been a recovery week for us at our park. Leadership camp was exhausting, but worth the pain. We are a tremendously close group of ProRangers now; nothing can pull us apart. These are the people I want having my back in our careers with the National Park Service. These people are family.

We went straight back to law enforcement, but focused many of our hours this week on online firefighter training. We learned about hand tools, digging a fire line, using your fire shelter, the incident command system, preparedness, water use, among many other things. The most important thing I learned was the “18 Watch Out’s” for wildland fire fighting and the 10 order. The 18 watch out’s showed us situations where you can be overtaken by the fire and how to avoid these. The 10 order explained the 10 most important things you must do, and in that order, when fighting wildland fire. Number 1 was to be aware of the weather and number 2 was to know what the fire is doing at all times.

Tuesday from 2-10 and Wednesday from 8-4 we spent our entire shift working on our s130 and s190. We stopped and took a break here and there, had dinner, and spoke to Ranger Ken for some good insight on law enforcement. Otherwise, it was a pretty slow, but, productive day.

Thursday we arrived and spent the first 2 hours doing fire fighter training. I finished my s130 and s190 programs and will now receive my red card. Charles is 3 modules away from completion. I feel good about this, because two of my goals this summer were to get my red card and to get my white card. I can happily say I’ve achieved both of my goals…(MEPS?) Anybody at leadership camp will know this reference! Goal setting, discipline in goal reaching, moral compass for guidance, and an emotional balance. We left the office after completion with Dave and went to The Chiefs home to notarize our ride-a-long papers for Prince William County Police and the Ambulance Company.

We traveled back to the park and Russell and I went patrolling while Dave and Charles finished up office work. Russell and I patrolled various areas of the park. At the campground we stopped to correct a fire violation. The flame was exceeding regulation and this is a huge hazard for forest fire in a national park. Although it may sound petty or unimportant, it isn’t. Protecting the resources is the foundation of the National Park Service. We returned to the office at the end of our shift and made sure everybody was on the same page for the ride-a-long scheduled for the next day.

The ride-a-long with Prince William County was pretty interesting and I really enjoyed myself. I was placed with a female officer, which I enjoyed, because I was able to ask her about what it’s like to be one of only 3 or 4 in the department. Let’s face it, female cops are far outnumbered and I'm proud to be in the process of becoming one. I enjoyed gaining insight into her experiences. Based on our conversations regarding her experiences, there are actually several luxuries to being a female. For instance, most males won’t try to fight you, because they don’t see you as a challenge. Also, females have maternal instincts when dealing with children who are involved in a case. And lastly, many women are gifted at diffusing a scene before it escalates. I enjoyed my conversations with the officer.

The day turned out to be quite comical, because the section we were in was slow. Every time we would be dispatched to a call and in route, another officer would beat us there and we would have to disregard the call. It started to become funny, because we would get to the other side of the town and get a call on the opposite side. Finally, we decided to back an officer on a traffic stop. This was the first time we actually got out of the car and it was night fall by that time. Next we searched for someone setting off illegal fireworks. We never found them, but we did find the chief of resource management at my park, Paul Petersen, walking his dog. What a small world. We moved on a started looking for a traffic violation. We found a vehicle with a headlight out and turned around to find him. Turns out he also turned around and went up another road and then turned around again and came back across the road he had left behind us. So we turned up another road to find him and passed him again. We pulled into a parking lot to turn around and stop him and then we heard another female officer stopping a vehicle down the street. We pulled up and got out of the car laughing, because she had stopped the vehicle we had been in pursuit of that whole time. The driver was given a warning and let go. After this we responded to a noise violation, but another officer beat us there again.

Finally, there was a car accident. The driver of the vehicle who hit the other vehicle got out and ran away with his passenger. This stepped the call up and we set up a perimeter to apprehend the suspects. Several officers patrolled on vehicle, several held the perimeter, and other set out on foot through the woods. The K-9 unit led the search. The suspects were located and detained. This was a lot of fun, but unfortunately the end of the night for us as it was 2am. I thanked the officer and Ranger Ballam picked us up from the station.

The ride-along with Prince William County Police was a great experience for me (Charles). It was interesting to see all the differences between what US Park Rangers do compared to the jobs and types of calls responded to by patrol officers in a suburban police department. Amber and I were able to sit in on roll call at the start of the shift around 4 o’clock, something that I had heard of but never experienced before. After I was assigned to an officer at the end of roll call, I was given a tour of the station. He showed me the offices for the criminal investigations branch and special operations. Then I was able to see the holding cells, and there were certainly plenty of them in the station, and he explained the process for what would happen when an officer brings in a prisoner, showing me where they would be fingerprinted, photographed, and booked. I was able to also see the armory, since the officer had to stop in there to pick up a shotgun with bean bag rounds. He gave me a brief tour of the magistrate’s office as well, so the bail process for prisoners can occur right there in the station as opposed to transporting the prisoner to a separate office for that process. The first few hours in the field were slow since not many calls were coming in, but the officer did make a traffic stop on a woman who ran a red light right in front of him. The officer was also a crime scene technician, so throughout the night we pulled up to several different scenes so he could take photographs for the officer’s reports. The first one was for a DUI stop, and the officer had to take photos of all the skid marks the driver had left on the road while completely failing in an attempt to make a U-turn. Throughout the next several hours we responded to a number of service calls, ranging from a welfare check to a noise complaint. It was a major change from what I’m used to when on patrol with rangers in the park, as there are not many service calls, and with Prince William County, they go from call to call. At around midnight, we sped to the scene of a domestic violence in-progress, and when we arrived two other officers were on-scene and a man was in custody in one of the patrol vehicles. The officer let me go into the residence with him while he took pictures the victim, who had several injuries. We quickly moved from there to back up an officer investigating two suspicious people in car. When we arrived on-scene, we got out and the officer provided cover while the contact officer searched the vehicle, uncovering drug paraphernalia and a small bag of marijuana. The contact officer wrote several citations for the adult, but interestingly gave no citation to the juvenile. That was the last call for the night, and we headed back for the station. I found this ride-along to be extremely worthwhile, as it is very important to understand the function of other police agencies, as rangers have to work with them in the field as well.

On Saturday, Amber and I traveled to dispatch, and observed them from 6-10 pm. There were two dispatchers on duty while we were there and they explained their tasks and the role of operations. As the night progressed, we saw how much traffic comes through and that they certainly have a difficult job. On multiple occasions rangers from a few different parks would call in at the same time, and it would be difficult to understand what each one was saying. The two dispatchers showed poise and patience and made timely responses back to each ranger, despite the heavy traffic coming in at those moments. I definitely have a tremendous respect for what they do, as these people are obviously extremely important to law enforcement personnel.

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