Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend at CAHA- Week 2

Honoring those past and present who serve our country
Happy Memorial Day
First, I would like to let everyone know this was quite an eventful week, especially an eventful Memorial Day weekend. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a park that attracts millions of people each year for a variety of activities. Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summertime. For everyone, and especially all the ProRangers reading this blog, this entry will be a long one, but I think it is an entry that shows you the diverse roles of NPS Law Enforcement, and I think writing about the variety is important in itself.

One of my supervisors, Mark Kreb started out my second work week by teaching me how to prep a vehicle to make sure all the necessary parts like lights and sirens are functional. He then taught me how to test the speed radar to make sure it is accurate. He told me at the beginning of each day all of these elements should be done and the day after an arrest you should check the back seat to make sure there is not any left over items that could be used as evidence. The following day right off the bat the first thing my supervisor did was test me on these procedures, and of course being a ProRanger I passed with flying colors.
Later in the day, I learned how to dissemble and clean both a pistol and a shotgun. It is important to ensure the weapons will work when the time comes when you'll need to use them. Additionally, by cleaning the weapons we are preventing rusting of the weapon, which is especially important with the moisture filled air and climate here at Cape Hatteras.

Here at Cape Hatteras we take a lot of proactive measures. We try to keep the park as clean as possible. When surfers come, the park will get surf stickers placed on stop signs and other signs around the park. If we see this, we immediately remove them so people continue to respect the area and it does not attract other people to do the same thing in the future. Additionally, Mark Krebs and I fixed any signs we found that needed adjusting. With the changing tide, the 4x4 signs placed in the sand sometimes sink too low into the sand. With the big weekend approaching and the wave of people arriving, we wanted to make sure the signs were clearly visible to all the visitors. We raised the signs to about eye level and removed worn down signs with new ones, to make them more noticeable, readable, and help increase the compliance rate.

There was a tropical storm headed in our direction and so it created heavy waves and an extremely strong rip current. When Mark and I saw people far out in the water we stopped and took the time to tell them to be safe. We educated them on the dangers of the rip currents and what to do if they get stuck in a rip current. We wanted to proactively prevent as much injuries and deaths as possible. Even still, with approximately 30 miles of beach in our area, there were many water rescues called in to dispatch. In most cases the individuals swim out of the rip current themselves before situations get really serious. However, there were two instances that stood out. The first was an instance where two people had overturned their kayaks and were sucked into the rip current. Onlookers called 911 and dispatch notified everyone. As we were on the way, the situation intensified when the onlookers lost sight of one of the victims. A few seconds later the situation intensified even more when three different people went in the ocean to attempt to rescue the struggling individuals, but they themselves were also pulled into the rip current, making a total of 5 people in the water without any type of flotation or life saving devices. Since the number of distressed victims increased, more units were in route. Arriving on scene were the Hatteras Island Volunteer Rescue Squad, Dare County EMS, and Station 46 Avon Volunteer Fire Department. To ensure no confusion between the organizations an immediate chain of command was established under the chief of the rescue squad. I am relieved to say all individuals made it out of the water safely. The second incident involved a boy about 19 or 20 years old. He was surfing for the first time and immediately got pulled into the rip current. He struggled to get out and his friends yelled for him to try to swim back to shore. He struggled so much, ditched his surf board, kept trying to make it to shore, but continued to swallow so much sea water and began to tire. He was near drowning when Brooke, an off-duty lifeguard, arrived on the beach to because she left her blanket there. Without any flotation devices in her possession and without hesitation she yelled "Call 911" and immediately dove in the water after the boy. Hearing this on dispatch we were no more than 5 minutes away and arrived on scene in no time. The off-duty lifeguard used the surfboard as a flotation device and successfully got the boy out of the rip current and safely to shore. He was too weak to walk so my supervisor and I transported him off the beach to the EMS ambulance that arrived seconds later. The boy was so grateful to be alive and kept saying he swore he was going to die out there. He could not get over the fact that he was alive. It is truly remarkable that the off-duty lifeguard just happened to be there. She saved his life and he was truly grateful.

The following day, the lifeguards red flagged the section of the ocean they protected, meaning they recommended not going into the water. Mother nature was being vicious so to prevent as many water rescues or injuries caused by hazardous waves, they red flagged it. Again, the people at CAHA were trying to be proactive instead of reactive. so we took the time to warn people we saw in the water about the dangers of the waves and the rip current.


One early afternoon Mark and I stopped by the Interpretation Training session. He spoke about the current issues, informed the interpretive staff to keep a lookout for any suspicious activity, and told the staff not to hesitate to call for assistance. He told them they are the "eyes and ears" of the park. Due to the current tension between the park service and the locals surrounding the new regulations, new Off Road Vehicle (ORV) Permits, and the animal closures, Mark told everyone in the training to report any type of harassment they might receive from the locals or the local businesses.
With Memorial Day weekend being the unofficial jump start of summer, the park was prepared for the mass influx of visitors. This weekend was the big test as to see whether people will comply with the new ORV regulations put in place in February. As we patrolled the beach throughout the entire weekend, there was probably a 95% compliance rate for either weekly or yearly permits. I was quite surprised there was such a high compliance rate, especially with the high volume of cars on the beach. The Camp Point campground was closed during the holiday weekend because of the temporary safety stand down on mowing, which caused the campground site to not ill prepared for visitors. The snakes inhabiting the high grass posed a threat to visitors. Additionally, all the rain that has been hitting us lately has caused a lot of the campground to be swampy. The campground was just unfit for visitors. This resulted in 200 less spaces for campers. The Frisco Campground was completely full for the entire holiday and the extra campers were suggested to go to the nearby private campgrounds.

Overall the holiday weekend went smoothly. There were a total of 5 arrests, mostly surrounding alcohol use or possession of illegal substances. The day after the arrest at the start of my shift the first thing Mark asked me was, "What's the first thing you do after you arrest someone?" and my answer was "check the back seat for anything that might have dropped back there" and low and behold that is exactly what he had me do. From these arrests, I learned how to log all the evidence.

There were a few incidents in which passengers had open containers of alcohol in the car. Jim, one of my supervisors, has a knack for these things and reads people really well. He looks at their reaction to law enforcement and pays specific attention to detail. On one incident he was nearby Mark and I at a vehicle stop and watched the reactions of individuals driving by to our presence. He witnessed a passenger in a car notice us and put something down near his feet. Jim then also witnessed them fail to use a turn signal so he was able to pull them over for that, where just as he imagined, he came upon an open container in the car. Jim urges me to remember I have five senses and I can use every single one of them to scope out a situation. It is not so much about the little things, but more about safety of the drivers, passengers, and the other people on the road. We want to prevent drinking and driving, we want to prevent injuries, and we want to prevent death. The LE rangers here at Cape Hatteras are very proactive and very serious about the safety of others as well as the safety of themselves. This weekend I witnessed a lot of field sobriety tests. Moreover, I learned a whole lot.

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