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Local forest rangers given awards

Forest Ranger Lt. Gary Friedrich, center, is given an award for his work as the ranger division’s aviation liaison and coordinator by state Department of Environmental Conservation Director of Forest Protection Eric Lahr, left, and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. (Photo provided by DEC)

The state Department of Environmental Conservation honored several local forest rangers for their work in an annual awards ceremony in Albany last week.

Forest rangers are the state’s first line of defense in the protection of public Forest Preserve lands, responding to wildfires and conducting search-and-rescue missions and law enforcement. While numerous rangers were given individual awards, a group award was also issued to 30 rangers for the rescue of two people near the summit of Algonquin Peak in December 2016.

Director’s Commendations

Forest Ranger Capt. John Streiff, center, is presented with a Director’s Commendation by state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, right, and DEC Director of Forest Protection Eric Lahr. (Photo provided by DEC)

Three rangers from the North Country were presented with the Director’s Commendation for “a sworn member who, over the preceding years, carried out the duties of a New York state forest ranger in an outstanding manner.”

Lt. Gary Friedrich, who oversees Zone B (Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties) in DEC Region 5, was given the award for his work as the ranger division’s aviation liaison and coordinator.

“During his tenure, the Forest Ranger Crew Chief Program expanded beyond Regions 5 and 6 to encompass the entire state, increasing from 12 operators to 22,” a transcript of the awards from the DEC said. “During this same time, Lt. Friedrich, with the help of his team, reissued Standard Operating Procedures for Ranger and State Police Aviation for hoist protocols and the development of the Hoist Assessment Guide.”

Lt. Julie Harjung, who oversees rangers in the Tri-Lakes area as Zone A supervisor, was given the award for her work on medical training for rangers statewide.

“Since its inception, Lt. Harjung has provided instruction at every Basic School for Uniformed Officers, at every mandated annual first aid in-service, and at every seasonal Assistant Forest Ranger training,” the DEC wrote. “All totaled, Lt. Harjung has been responsible for the delivery of over 110 first aid courses, teaching over 2500 students.

Forest Ranger Lt. Julie Harjung, center, is given an award for her work on medical training by state Department of Environmental Conservation Director of Forest Protection Eric Lahr, left, and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. (Photo provided by DEC)

“In the past 15 years, Rangers have conducted or assisted with almost 4,000 backcountry search or rescue missions. Her tireless dedication to this program translates to her having a helping hand in saving countless lives across all of New York State.”

Capt. John Streiff was also recognized for his work as supervisor for all rangers in Region 5, which covers most of the Adirondack Park. Streiff took on the role in 2002 and oversees a third of all rangers in the state.

“Frequently, along with the [New York State Police], County Sheriffs and our other partners, he willingly accepts the most difficult role of unified incident commander on some of the most recognizable and press-worthy incidents occurring on state land.

“He is as comfortable working behind a desk as he is responding alongside his staff to a backcountry search, rescue or law enforcement detail.”

Scott van Laer, a Ray Brook-based forest ranger, is given the Col. William F. Fox Award for his work on search-and-rescue missions, as well as taking on the role of unofficial historian for the ranger division. State Department of Environmental Conservation Director of Forest Protection Eric Lahr, left, and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, right, present the award. (Photo provided by DEC)

Meritorious Service Award

Ranger Joe LaPierre, who works in Essex and Franklin counties, was presented with the Meritorious Service Award for his work on developing training and procedures for use of weapons among rangers.

“This had a profound impact on the Division’s image, when during the Dannemora fugitive search, Forest Rangers were able to lead law enforcement crews safely afield because they were trained and equipped with the best firearms available.

“His team-oriented demeanor has earned him tremendous respect from Rangers in the Use of Force program, and has helped build depth in numbers which has increased the Division’s ability to deliver quality trainings for many years to come.”

Maj. John Tibbitts, left, commander of New York State Police Troop B, receives the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Col. William F. Fox Citizens Award from DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. (Photo provided by DEC)

Col. William F. Fox Award

This award, given in honor of the “Father of the Forest Ranger Force,” was presented to Ray Brook-based Ranger Scott van Laer for his work on both the history of the force and on search and rescue missions in the High Peaks.

“He has become the Division’s unofficial historian with a passion for the history of the New York State Forest Rangers. If anyone were to have a question about where we came from, Ranger van Laer would be the one to ask. He would likely have the answer on the tip of his tongue and if not would be willing to spend the next year researching to find out.

“Seemingly, he is on every rescue, big or small, whether it be working in 20 degrees in Indian Pass or up on Algonquin searching for a missing couple in the middle of December.”

Col. William F. Fox Citizens Award

The Citizens award is presented to a non-ranger who has supported the mission of the forest ranger division. The award was presented this year to Maj. John Tibbitts of the New York State Police. Tibbitts commands Troop B in Ray Brook.

“Through numerous incidents, including the search for Colin Gillis, recovery of David Hawath and most notably, the 2015 inmate escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility, Major John Tibbitts and the Division of State Police have offered and given assets and resources to help the Rangers successfully complete our missions.

“To this day, Major Tibbitts continues an open channel of dialogue between State Police Troop B and DEC Region 5. Major Tibbitts efforts have certainly been significant and of extraordinary assistance to the Division in carrying out its mission.”

More photos of the awards ceremony on DEC’s Flickr page

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