DNR conservation officers honored for lifesaving efforts in Gaylord, Detroit

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DNR News

Feb. 16, 2023

Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers based in Gaylord and Detroit recently were honored for their lifesaving efforts last year in response to the Gaylord tornado and a medical event on Belle Isle in Detroit.

Gaylord tornado response

Contact: Lt. Vence Woods, 989-705-3449

four conservation officers standing in hallway smiling

Two environmental investigations conservation officers received DNR Law Enforcement Division awards during the Michigan Natural Resources Commission's February meeting in Lansing for their swift, effective response to the Gaylord tornado.

Lt. Vence Woods, environmental investigations supervisor, was presented with a Distinguished Service Award and a Lifesaving Award. Det. Chris Bowen, environmental investigations conservation officer, received a Distinguished Service Award.

On May 20, 2022, at approximately 3:45 p.m., the community of Gaylord was hit by an EF-3 tornado. Several Michigan DNR conservation officers were among the first emergency responders to arrive at the scene.

Woods was working in the Gaylord-based Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy office, located at 2100 M-32, when he saw the tornado touch down near the building. After ensuring his office was secure, he gathered emergency response supplies and followed the tornado's path in a detective unit vehicle to the Nottingham Forest Mobile Home Park, located a half-mile east of the EGLE office.

The mobile home park was one of the hardest hit areas, with building frames and axles of trailers, roofs and other heavy items hanging from trees. Woods coordinated with the first emergency responders who arrived and risked his own life by searching the dangerous scene.

“In 35 years of law enforcement, that was the most volatile and dangerous place I have seen,” Woods said of the destroyed mobile home park. “When I arrived, the natural gas was spewing as loud as a jet plane. It was all you could taste and smell.”

During the response, Woods located and removed a trapped woman who was in critical condition, unable to breathe and with numerous injuries. Woods worked with others to strap the woman to a kitchen chair and carry her out of the debris and a considerable distance to a staged ambulance in a safer area.

Woods returned to the scene and searched numerous mounds of debris for people with injuries and worked to clear the scene.

Bowen immediately responded to the hardest hit areas in Gaylord and was personally responsible for assisting 15 people with emergencies and provided medical treatment to at least 11 others.

At Culver’s, 1397 W. Main St., Bowen provided medical care to two women, one with a large piece of glass in her head, the other with multiple serious cuts caused by glass that exploded from the restaurant windows.

He assisted at Hobby Lobby, 1425 W. Main St., helping other emergency responders dig through debris for trapped people, while damaged gas, water and electrical lines posed serious risk.

At the Nottingham mobile home park, Woods witnessed Bowen risk his own life, searching through debris and assisting someone who needed to retrieve medication from their destroyed mobile home.

When additional emergency personnel arrived to assist, Woods and Bowen provided details of where they searched, people they located, and those who may be missing.

Both conservation officers used their knowledge of the area and emergency response training to assist local authorities in the days following the tornado.

Woods has worked in law enforcement since 1987. Both he and Bowen have served as conservation officers since 2000.

Environmental investigation conservation officers are funded by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

Belle Isle medical response

Contact: Lt. Jason Becker, 313-396-6890

CO Ariel Young

During a department staff meeting Monday in Livonia, two DNR conservation officers received Lifesaving Awards for their response to a medical situation that occurred on Belle Isle in November.

On Nov. 13, 2022, Conservation Officers Ariel Young and Brandon Vacek responded to an emergency dispatch call regarding an unresponsive woman at the Detroit island park.

With unclear details as to the woman’s location, Young located a group of people near the James Scott Memorial Fountain, located at Fountain Drive and Sunset Drive, at 5:59 p.m.

CO Brandon Vacek

Vacek met Young at the scene where the unresponsive woman’s friends were attempting to perform CPR on her in the backseat of a vehicle.

Vacek attempted to keep the group calm while collecting information about the woman.

Young removed the woman from the vehicle, gently laid her on the ground and detected a faint pulse. The woman was unresponsive, so Young began sternal rubs to help her regain consciousness. With the woman still unresponsive, Young administered two doses of NARCAN while continuing sternal rubs.

NARCAN is a medication used for suspected opioid use, commonly administered through the nose.

After the second dose of NARCAN, the woman regained full consciousness and was able to maintain a conversation.

EMS arrived at 6:05 p.m. and assessed the woman’s vitals. After consulting with a hospital doctor via phone, the woman was discharged from the ambulance.

The DNR is not releasing the name of the woman.

Young and Vacek are graduates of the DNR’s 2018 Conservation Officer Recruit School Academy and patrol in southeast Michigan.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned law enforcement officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety, and protect residents through general law enforcement and conducting lifesaving operations in the communities they serve. Learn more at Michigan.gov/ConservationOfficers.

Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows.

Bowen, Woods: Michigan DNR conservation officers, left to right: Capt. Jen Wolf, Det. Chris Bowen, Lt. Vence Woods, Chief Dave Shaw. Bowen and Woods received awards during the Feb. 9 Michigan Natural Resources Commission meeting in Lansing for their response to the EF-3 tornado that struck Gaylord in May. Woods was presented with a Distinguished Service Award and Lifesaving Award. Bowen received a Distinguished Service Award.

Vacek: Brandon Vacek has been a conservation officer since 2018 and patrols Monroe County. He received the DNR Law Enforcement Division's Lifesaving Award.

Young: Ariel Young has been a conservation officer since 2018 and patrols Wayne County. She received the DNR Law Enforcement Division Lifesaving Award.

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