TULSA, Okla. — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park rangers will tell you they have the best job in the world. They get to be outdoors when they are on patrol and they interact with the public they are responsible for keeping safe at corps lakes.
There is, however, one part of the job the rangers dread. It is when they have to respond to a public fatality. As first responders they have to retrieve or search for the victim’s remains, and they often witness the traumatic impact the death has on the victim’s family and friends. The grief and sadness are amplified when the death could have been prevented and in most cases by simply wearing a life vest.
Public safety is the number one priority of the corps and that includes water safety. Rangers spend hours and hours interacting with the public when they are out on patrol or at various community events, urging people to wear a life jacket and practice water and boating safety. Unfortunately, people still drown at corps lakes.
Tulsa District Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Gene Snyman believes the issue is so important that he is spending some weekends this summer going out on water patrol (in his Army uniform) to support the rangers and to try to spread the water safety message.
“I wanted to support our rangers who deal with the public on a daily basis. They have the most invested since they are the primary spokespersons for the corps and also bear the responsibility of trying to keep the public safe, often from themselves,” said Snyman. “Behind each of those public fatality reports there are tough first-hand images of destroyed lives and grieving families. The rangers carry that burden.”
Snyman accompanied rangers Eric Summars and Stacey Dunkin on water patrol at Lake Eufaula, July 10, making more than 50 water safety contacts at area beaches. “We made several boat traffic stops for minor infractions where we conducted boat safety inspections and talked to each vessel’s occupants about the importance of water safety,” said Summars.
On another water patrol at Tenkiller Lake, the ranger pointed out to Snyman the exact location where a 21-year-old woman drowned after walking out too far at the swim beach. “It is quite sobering to see all the happy kids and families at the location and imagining the frantic scenes of just a few days prior,” said Snyman. “This year our community has lost a 12-year-old, a 13-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 21-year-old, among many others. I have an 11-year-old, a 13-year-old and a 21-year-old daughter of my own, so it strikes pretty close to home.”
One contact at a time, Snyman hopes to make a difference. “It’s difficult to see how one additional person can make much of a difference, but you have to do what you can,” said Snyman. “People tend to listen and be responsive to someone in a military uniform, especially in this area where there is a great deal of respect and gratitude from the public for uniformed service members. Perhaps I can capitalize on that just a bit and hopefully impress on a few to think twice out there on the lake. If any of our efforts can affect a change that prevents a tragedy, it’s well worth the effort.”