Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Side Effects of Being A Park Ranger

Even though I am now retired I am still showing signs of having been a National Park Ranger for more than thirty two years.  The diverse duties, 24/7 demands, and responsibilities that such positions entail become ingrained into your being in such a way that it is impossible to shake.  Many attributes that a park ranger take on are embodied in most law enforcement, emergency medical, fire fighting, and search and rescue personnel all rolled into one.

Some of the symptoms of the conditions include;

Scanning – Whenever in a public place such as a restaurant, airport, school, shopping center, or any crowd a park ranger is constantly scanning the people and faces around them.  Having lived in a state of vigilance always looking for potential problems or danger is hard to shake and at times still comes in handy.  Problems arise when you are with others who do not understand.  The non verbal message you send with your eyes constantly scanning is that you are not listening or interested in what is being said.  After 33 years of marriage my wife is just starting to accept this condition and why I do not look her in the eye across a table when at a restaurant.

Awareness of Surroundings – A park ranger is constantly aware of their surroundings and looking for escape routes and safety concerns.  It drives some people crazy that I am always looking at the pressure gauges on fire extinguishers, checking fire doors, looking for exit signs, and checking out security systems in stores and historic buildings we visit.  It is almost a reflex that I am drawn to such interesting objects.  I have angered several store managers and others by pointing out faulty and expired fire extinguishers.  It is so bad that when I go back to the same facility I check to see if they fixed the problem.  And yes, it gets old for my family members and friends.  I imagine that some security people monitoring cameras would think I was a suspect casing a joint the way I look around.  I really try to control this impulse when in banks.

Paranoia- A sense of paranoia develops as a survival skill that manifests itself into daily life.  Park Rangers who work in law enforcement learn to use their paranoia to keep them safe and detect deception and criminal activity.  A certain level of paranoia is a good thing.  Most would believe that this would only apply to big city police departments, but research by Kevin M. Gilmartin, Ph.D. (Emotional Survival For Law Enforcement, E-S Press, 2002) and others has shown that this phenomenon is just as strong amongst National Park Rangers.  A life time of dealing with the seedier side of life and maintaining a constant level of what is called “hypervigilance” creates a very real sense of paranoia as a survival tactic.  Unchecked or controlled paranoia leads to a basic mistrust of others and tendency to bond with only other law enforcement types.  It can also cause stress within a family when it prevents them from participating in life and making friends outside the workplace.  Years later my son told me that my paranoia fed into him and made it difficult at times to be accepted at school.

So I work every day in an attempt to counter act some of these effects.  A big turning point for me was when I attended a training presentation given by Kevin Gilmartin.  Very early into his presentation I felt he was talking about me and that what I was dealing with was common and normal.  His insights and recommendations helped me to recognize the effects of the job and how to counter them.  I highly recommend his book to anyone working or considering working in law enforcement.

Check the link below.


  1. A healthy level of situational awareness is a good thing, and by keeping a good scan, it's you who may end up saving someone's life. Too many people are not aware of their surroundings but staying "in the yellow" is something we should all try to attain.

  2. So true. The trick is to keep it in a positive protective mode and not get dominated by it.

  3. Park rangers suck

    1. your just mad because you didn't become a park ranger so don't say that they suck if you don't have a reason