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Contact: Dena Matteson, 5733234814VAN BUREN, MO: On July 4, four National Park Service (NPS) Rangers from Ozark National Scenic Riverways were honored during the 73rd Honor Awards Convocation Ceremony at the U.S. Department of the Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C. Park Rangers Joshua Gibbs, Lindel Gregory, Patrick Jackson, and Daniel Newberry were each presented Valor Awards by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, for their heroic efforts during the historic flood that impacted the Riverways and much of southern Missouri in April 2017. The Valor Award is the highest award of the Department, and is presented to employees for demonstrating unusual courage involving a high degree of personal risk in the face of danger while attempting to save the life of another.
“We are extremely proud of Rangers Joshua Gibbs, Lindel Gregory, Patrick Jackson, and Daniel Newberry for the actions they took leading to this well-deserved recognition for helping our neighbors in the Van Buren community, but also for what they do every day to protect park visitors and resources,” said Superintendent Larry Johnson.
On April 29 and 30, 2017, the areas in and around Ozark National Scenic Riverways in southeastern Missouri received more than 15 inches of rainfall. As a result, massive flooding occurred on and adjacent to the park’s Current and Jacks Fork rivers. The Current River crested at 39 feet near park headquarters in Van Buren, 10 feet higher than the previous recorded high water mark in 1904. At 5:30 P.M. on April 29, the Carter County Sheriff requested assistance from NPS Park Rangers to perform swift-water rescues of area residents who were trapped in their homes with rising and fast-moving flood waters quickly approaching or already upon them. Park Rangers Gibbs, Gregory, Jackson, and Newberry worked into the night along with rescuers from the Sheriff’s Department, the Van Buren Volunteer Fire Department, Missouri Department of Conservation and Missouri Highway Patrol, as well as other local citizens.
The park rangers, specially trained in swift-water rescue techniques, successfully conducted approximately 30 rescues, all under hazardous conditions, and continuously exposed themselves to high-risk situations. They went from house to house checking for stranded residents using NPS boats through rapidly rising floodwaters to reach residents in their homes. In some cases, the team maneuvered the boats under low-hanging powerlines only a few feet above the rushing water and through fumes from leaking propane tanks to reach the stranded residents. To conduct this many rescues in hazardous conditions, they waded in waist-deep waters at great personal risk, with the dangers of live electricity and leaking propane, to retrieve people from their flooded homes, secure them on the rescue boats, and guide them to safety.
Rangers Gibbs, Gregory, Jackson, and Newberry, along with their families, traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive their awards at the special Independence Day ceremony. Award certificates and personalized Valor Coins engraved with their names were presented to each ranger by Secretary Zinke.
“Lives were saved because these four rangers risked their own lives to help Missourians in need,” Senator Claire McCaskill remarked about this award. “No one hopes for disasters like the historic floods we saw last year, but I’m grateful that we have such brave and selfless first responders in our communities—and I proudly join all Missourians in commending them for their bravery.”
“When massive flooding threatened the lives of people in the Van Buren community, these park rangers put their lives on the line to bring them to safety,” Senator Roy Blunt said. “I’m grateful for their heroic action, and the important work our nation’s park rangers do every day.”
Congressman Jason Smith stated, “The tremendous life-saving efforts by Joshua Gibbs, Patrick Jackson, Lindel Gregory, and Daniel Newberry have made the entire state of Missouri proud, and I am glad to see these brave men from Van Buren receive the recognition they deserve from Secretary Zinke.”
Presiding Carter County Commissioner Donald Black said, “These men are heroes. When I saw what they did, and how dangerous those flood waters were for them to keep going back out and rescuing our stranded residents, my hat is off to them.”
- nps.gov/ozar -
Ozark National Scenic Riverways preserves the free-flowing Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, the surrounding resources, and the unique cultural heritage of the Ozark people. For more information about the Riverways, call (573) 323-4236; visit the park’s Facebook page, or website at www.nps.gov/ozar.