WASHINGTON – Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this week presented the prestigious Department of the Interior Valor Award and the Citizen’s Award for Bravery to National Park Service rangers, staff and several citizens for their heroic, life-saving actions during rescues at Grand Teton National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Zion National Park.
The awards were presented during the U.S. Department of the Interior 68th Honor Awards Convocation at the Stewart Lee Udall Interior Building in Washington, D.C.
“From complex missions requiring dozens of people to act quickly in a team to single immediate actions, these park rangers and citizens exemplify the best of our human nature,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “These people didn’t wake up one morning looking to be heroes, but that’s what they became when they came upon perilous situations; when they saved lives.”
National Park Service employees and citizens were part of a major rescue on July 21, 2010, when a fast- moving lightning storm caught 17 climbers near the summit of the 13,770-foot Grand Teton in Grand Teton National Park. Sixteen of the climbers were rescued; one died from injuries when he fell more than 2,000 feet during the brunt of the storm.
Salazar presented the valor awards to park rangers Ryan Schuster, Jack McConnell, Marty Vidak, Ed Visnovske, Nicholas Armitage, Drew Hardesty, and Helen Bowers. A local Jackson, Wyo. doctor, A.J. Wheeler, pilot Matt Heart and Teton Interagency helitack member John Filardo, and Exum Mountain guides Dan Corn, Anneka Door, and Brenton Reagan each received the citizen bravery awards.
Kevork Arackellian and Anthony Reece received valor awards for their daring rescue of climbers stranded on Mount Terror in North Cascades National Park in July 2009.
Yosemite National Park ranger Dan Abbe rescued two people from a burning vehicle shortly before an auxiliary fuel tank turned the pickup truck into an inferno. The incident happened in May 2009 and Abbe’s immediate action resulted in the valor award.
NPS rangers Paul Charlton and Glenn Kessler in June 2010 rescued three people from a crevasse after they were injured during a climb of the Ingraham Glacier in Mount Rainier National Park. The men received valor awards for their work. Their exhilaration was short-lived – while managing the first dramatic rescue, they found the empty camp of two other climbers they’d seen a day before. A helicopter search ended the same day and Charlton and Kessler hiked and climbed in dangerous ice and wind to find both climbers dead after a fall.
A modest California police detective, David Bavencoff, received the citizen’s bravery award for his actions to save the life of a hiker in Zion National Park who slipped off a trail to Angel’s Landing. Bavencoff grabbed the girl’s ankle and pulled her up to the trail. Park officials knew nothing of the March 2010 rescue until Bavencoff’s supervisor heard the tale when he asked the detective about his vacation. The supervisor called Zion’s chief ranger Cindy Purcell which started the nomination process for the DOI Citizen’s Award for Bravery.
Valor awards are presented to DOI employees who have demonstrated unusual courage involving a high degree of personal risk in the face of danger. The act of heroism is not required to be related to official duties, or to have occurred at the official duty station. Recipients receive a special certificate and citation signed by the Secretary, and an engraved gold Valor Award medal.
The Citizen’s Award for Bravery is granted to private citizens for heroic acts or unusual bravery in the face of danger. Honorees receive a special certificate and citation signed by the Secretary for risking their lives to save the life of a DOI employee or the life of any person while on property owned by or entrusted to the Interior Department.
It's good to see that people who work for our enjoyment and safety in these parks are getting the recognition they so obviously deserve for going above and beyond their basic duties, but I also like to see that citizens are being recognized for their actions in helping fellow outdoorsfolk.
The main thing I take away from this is that when I make bad or outright stupid decisions in the wilderness, I am not only affecting my own safety (which is how I tend to think) but possibly putting someone else's life at risk when they try to come save me. It's of course good to recognize the people who do end up helping, but it would be better if rescue was not needed in the first place. These awards may help people to realize that they are not just gambling with their own lives in these risky activities, but also the lives of SAR/fellow climbers, if rescue occurs.
I understand that unforseen circumstances arise and some things we can't do anything about, but having the extra burden of a possible dangerous rescue might encourage more conservative decision making. I think that would be the best outcome from these awards, both for climbers and for park rangers.