November 16, 2012

Maine forest rangers cut N.Y. red tape

The detail dispatched in response to Sandy drew double takes – and high praise for its work.

The Associated Press

AUGUSTA - New Yorkers hit by Superstorm Sandy wondered what Maine forest rangers -- better known for fighting forest fires -- were doing in their neck of the woods during the recovery effort.

Kent Nelson of the Maine Forest Service had an answer Friday, a day after the nine-member detail returned to Maine: "We were kind of the eyes and ears of the (New York) health department."

A nine-member forest ranger team was mobilized two days after the devastating storm hit the city, and they remained there for 14 days, working 12- to 14-hour shifts, said Nelson.

The rangers worked with the New York Health Department and New York National Guard in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, organizing and managing the effort to check individual homes in an area quite unlike the Maine woods.

The Maine group managed three medical-assistance teams that conducted more than 21,000 door-to-door health and wellness checks in nearly 200 high-rise buildings. The Maine group made some of the home visits, but the bulk were done by the New York-based teams, Nelson said.

"They were very glad we were there because they feared the low-income population had been forgotten," said Nelson. "We didn't see much anger."

Mostly, people said they were OK and thanked the visiting officials, and asked when one service or another would be restored. The Guard and health officials made many trips to get medicines for residents. Hundreds of people lined up at relief vans to get food, water, cleaning supplies and other needed items, said Nelson.

"We had quite a few people say 'What are Maine forest rangers doing in New York?' " said Nelson.

Emily Ashton, a New York City Health Department senior adviser, said the Maine contingent's work was appreciated.

"Before the Maine forest rangers and the National Guard arrived, we were unorganized and were limited to groups of volunteers for the wellness checks," Ashton said. "The forest rangers provided clear, crisp direction and helped us get the job done way ahead of schedule."

On Sunday, 11 state police troopers arrived back in Maine after spending a week helping to keep the peace in Monmouth County in New Jersey in the storm's aftermath. Two other Maine troopers who worked in the New York disaster operations center also have returned, a spokesman said.


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