Conservation officers honored for life-saving efforts
May 23, 2013
When most people hear the phrase, "conservation officer," they immediately form an image of a man or woman in uniform, measuring fish or checking a hunting license. But conservation officers are fully empowered peace officers, not only capable of - but charged with - maintaining public safety.
"We are fully certified police officers," explained Gary Hagler, chief of the Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division. "We are trained as first-responders to be able to react to any emergency situation. And we take that part of the job very seriously." From left to right: Chief Gary Hagler, CO Jeff Ginn, CO Troy VanGelderen, CO Richard Nickols, CO Jason Wicklund, Assistant Chief Dean Molnar (Image to the right)
The DNR regularly honors those within its ranks who have reacted to emergency situations that might have otherwise had fatal consequences with the agency's "Lifesaving Award." Recently, four officers were honored at a Natural Resources Commission meeting, and the circumstances of their actions illustrate how broad the DNR conservation officers' experience really is.
Clinton County CO Richard Nickols was on routine patrol when he heard a 911 dispatch call from for an unconscious, unresponsive person. Being nearby, Nickols responded to the call to find a woman in full cardiac arrest.
Nickols began administering CPR, along with a member of the woman's family, until medical personnel arrived and were able to get the woman's heart started with an automated external defibrillator (AED). The woman has since made a full recovery. She later contacted Nickols and told him that her doctors attributed her recovery to his response and actions.
"A lot of times in outlying communities, our officers are the first to respond to emergency and medical situations," Hagler said. "Our officers are fully trained in first aid and CPR, so they know what to do when they get there."
It's the police officer's instinct of knowing when something just doesn't look right that caused CO Jeff Ginn of Newaygo to respond to a situation that saved a young woman's life.
While checking on some fishing activity, Ginn noticed a vehicle that was backed into a campsite and idling with its lights on. When he pulled in for a closer look, Ginn saw a dryer vent hose from the vehicle's exhaust pipe taped and sealed to the vehicle's passenger window.
Ginn immediately called for emergency medical personnel, gained entry to the vehicle, shut off the ignition and removed a semi-conscious female from the vehicle. Ginn administered first aid until EMS arrived.
"Had CO Ginn not been diligent with his patrol efforts, there's no doubt this situation would have had a very different ending," Hagler said.
In rural areas, conservation officers are often best-suited to respond when someone turns up missing, because they have the equipment and training to get around in the woods. Such was the case in Iron County last December when an 89-year-old man, who went out to cut a Christmas tree, failed to return home.
CO Jason Wicklund responded to the call and joined a deputy sheriff with the snow falling heavily. The pair located a freshly cut tree, but could not track which direction the man had gone from there. A 90-minute search by a canine unit failed to turn up the missing person.
Wicklund and the deputy, however, refused to give up and searched well into the night in single-digit temperatures, until, at 3 a.m., they found fresh tracks. The tracks led to the missing man, who had cuts on his hands and face and was bleeding heavily.
Wicklund had to hike back to his four-wheel-drive truck, return to the man, and drive him to a location where an ambulance could pick him up. The man recovered from his injuries.
"Our officers have the equipment - boats, snowmobiles, ORVs - that many other officers don't have access to," Hagler said. "We will respond anywhere."
DNR conservation officers also often have a better knowledge of the landscape than anyone else, a factor that played into Troy VanGelderen's Lifesaving Award.
VanGelderen responded to a reported helicopter crash in Oceana County's Tanner Swamp. Using coordinates supplied by central dispatch - obtained from a cell phone signal - VanGelderen crossed streams and waded through standing water to reach the crash site.
Although the pilot was dead, VanGelderen found a semi-conscious passenger suffering from multiple broken bones and a severe laceration. As the survivor was slipping into shock, VanGelderen administered first aid and stayed with the victim for several hours until he could help direct additional rescue personnel to the scene.
"Many of our officers know the countryside they patrol well enough that they can negotiate their way through vast tracts of wild land," Hagler said. "If not for officer VanGelderen's knowledge and his ability to locate the crash site in a timely manner, this might have been a two-fatality crash instead of just one."
It isn't every day that DNR conservation officers are called upon to save a life. But they stand ready to do their part, protecting the safety of citizens and visitors in the great state of Michigan.