By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Local 983 Urban Park Rangers in Staten Island’s Ocean Breeze fanned out across the tidal marsh in a search-and-rescue mission to find a lost 83-year-old man on May 2.
Headed to Staten Island University Hospital for a doctor’s visit, the elderly man missed his bus and decided to take a shortcut through the vast meadows he walked as a youngster. He told reporters that he had walked for almost 30 minutes only to discover too late that what he remembered to be dry land decades years ago is now 110 acres of wet marshland.
Tired and disoriented, the man stepped in mud, fell backward, and began to sink. He used an old flip phone to call 911.
UPR Sgt. Anne Marie Santos was at her post in Ocean Breeze when she saw police gathering. They told her about the 911 call that went out around 2:15 p.m. She radioed UPRs and PEP Officers Winston Farrell, Charles Williams, and Julie Baker.
“The call went out immediately to every unit available to join the search alongside 122 Precinct police,” Baker said. “It was all hands on deck.”
NYPD aviation dispatched a helicopter to the scene. Flying low over the marshes, the chopper spotted the distressed octogenarian face up — he had sunk to his ears in the muddy waters. Santos said the UPRs were about 15 feet away when police snatched the victim to safety.
Grasping his cell phone and briefcase, he hung onto his rescuers for dear life.
“Thanks to the rapid response of police and Urban Park Rangers,” Local 983 President Joe Puleo said, “the victim was saved within 45 minutes of the emergency call. We are proud of our alert and responsive PEP Officers, who are vital to public safety in New York City parks. They stepped up to help police find and rescue this man. Our units at Ocean Breeze are ready with all-terrain vehicles, mobile gators and on horseback to help.”
“The day was bright and clear,” Santos added. “But the next day it was cloudy with low visibility. Under those conditions, it may not have ended as well.”
Local 983 is asking the mayor and the City Council to add $15 million to the fiscal year 2020 city budget specifically to fund the hiring of 80 more PEP Officers and 50 Urban Park Rangers to patrol the city’s 20,000 acres of parks, marshes, and beaches.