Ranger Rick: Tales From a Former YNP Ranger

Crisis Negotiator

Rick Gale

The original mission of the National Park Service: “ ...to promote and regulate the use of the ... national parks ... which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” -National Park Service Organic Act-

It’s 6 p.m. and the early evening sky over Yellowstone National Park is incredible. All park accommodations are reporting full. Its summer and 21,000 visitors are staying overnight, scattered throughout the 2,291,823 acres of the world’s first national park.

In many parks such as Yellowstone, law enforcement rangers must combat organized theft, drug trafficking, and investigate crimes. Other calls can range from responding to traffic accidents, clearing up a “bear jam” that has traffic backed up for miles and visitors chasing bears with their cameras, to campground mishaps. Just about anything can happen.

My first call out as a crisis negotiator took place on a summer night in Yellowstone National Park. I was at my residence in the Fishing Bridge Village Area when the Yellowstone dispatcher called and told me that Lake Rangers had just responded to a domestic violence incident in the Fishing Bridge RV Campground.

I was told to report to the Fishing Bridge RV Campground Office where I would met with Ranger Alice Siebecker who was the Lake Area Supervisor and Incident Commander.

Just a few months earlier, I had completed a basic crisis/hostage negotiator course at San Jose State University. After completing the training to become a negotiator, I wanted to get out there and prove to myself that I had the right stuff to be an effective negotiator and handle a real-life situation, but at the same time, I knew that peoples’ lives could be placed in harm’s way.

During the interview with our victim, we learned that she and her boyfriend had been arguing when he started throwing furniture and breaking a mirror inside the RV. At one point, he pushed her against a wall and then tried to drive the RV out of the campsite, but was unable to because the wheels were still blocked and electrical, water, and sewer hook-ups still attached.

That’s when the she went out the front door and made a run for it. While running down the road in the dark, she came across Ranger Wes Miles who just happened to be on a road patrol in the Fishing Bridge Village Area.

We also learned that her boyfriend had been drinking heavily and taking medication. In the mix, there was a loaded shotgun in the RV and readily available.

Chief Ranger Dan Sholly, at Park Headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs, had been advised of the situation by Ranger Siebecker and had approved a call out of the Special Operations Team if we felt it was necessary.

Before making any contact with the boyfriend still inside the RV, we quietly went to each campsite and moved campers to safety at the Fishing Bridge Hamilton Store. The store manager had been with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in California and was more than willing and capable of providing safe shelter for a group of displaced campers in the middle of the night.

It was time to make contact with the boyfriend. Keep in mind, that I didn’t have all the whistles and bells negotiators have at their disposal like you seen in the movies. Any communication I was going to have would have to be done with a bullhorn.

Ranger Wes Miles was my wheelman. He drove the blacked out patrol car into Loop A were we took a position about 30 yards from where the suspect’s RV was still parked. We both exited the car and took cover and concealment.

It was cold and raining. I held a bullhorn and Miles held an M-14. This was it. This is what I trained for. In my mind’s eye, I pictured all those scenarios and what I needed to do. Time to start negotiating and defuse this situation by demonstrating my concern, caring, and willingness to assist in getting the help the suspect needed.

“Hello. My name is Rick Gale.  I’m a park ranger. What’s going on?”
I listened. Nothing.

Again, I attempted to get a response. I wanted to get the suspect to talk, which might help to reduce his anxiety about being surrounded by park rangers.

“Help me understand this situation.”

After 30 minutes of getting no response from the subject, one of the Lake Rangers was able to get a visual on the subject from a tall spruce tree he had climbed for a better view.

“Rick. Rick. You can stop. I think your guy is passed out and lying on a bed to the rear of the RV.”

Ranger Miles and I quickly got off the ground, entered the RV through an unlocked front door and rushed down the hallway into the bedroom and cuffed the suspect who was still lying unconscious on a queen-sized bed.  

Going in right behind us, another ranger located a loaded shotgun that had been placed between a wall and couch opposite the entrance door.

After being taken into custody, the suspect was transported to Park Headquarters and booked at the Mammoth Jail on charges of possessing a loaded firearm in the park and disorderly conduct.

And there you have it. No shots fired. My first time as a National Park Service crisis negotiator with a successful outcome even though the suspect didn’t hear a word I said.

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