Steamboat U.S. Forest Service cop joins hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, St. John | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat U.S. Forest Service cop joins hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, St. John

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs-based U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Ty Bricker went to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and St. John not knowing what to expect, and he came back inspired by the enormous amount of perseverance he witnessed.

"It will almost bring to you to tears," Bricker said.

In the Steamboat Springs area, Bricker is the only full-time law enforcement officer responsible for enforcing the laws in three million acres of forest encompassing five counties. Before joining the Forest Service in 2013, he served as an Army Ranger.

As part of the hurricane recovery efforts, the Forest Service was looking for volunteers to travel to Puerto Rico as first responders.

"You have to be willing to go down there and eat MREs and sleep in the dirt for a while," said Bricker, who has three young children with is wife, Kelsey. "I really wanted to go because I wanted to help."

In the Army, his mission usually involved neutralizing the enemy. This time, he was not in the islands to fight but rather to help provide humanitarian aid.

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The trip lasted about three weeks.

"I was really glad that I was chosen to go," Bricker said. "I felt it was an honor."

Bricker said members of his group were among the first to arrive in San Juan, Puerto Rico, once the airport was reopened.

After a few days in Puerto Rico, Bricker joined a small contingent of medical staff and other law enforcement officers to provide aid to the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"It was hit with two Cat 5s basically in a week," Bricker said. "They didn't really even know the second one was coming."

Bricker's job was to provide security for the medical and search and rescue efforts. He also helped recover bodies, and he said they fortunately only had one.

There were a few burglaries on the island, but Bricker said his security team did not encounter any problems. Anything that wasn't a hardened structure was destroyed.

"The best way to describe it was a nuclear bomb falling followed by a wildfire," Bricker said.

During Hurricane Irma, there were six tornadoes recorded on St. John.

"There wasn't a piece of vegetation left on anything," Bricker said.

Some residents chose to leave the island via cruise ships that were offering to take people to Florida.

Despite the destruction, many stayed, and the people of St. John were in high spirits. They started up generators, gave away beer and played music.

Bricker said it was one of the top experiences of his life.

"I just really can't say enough about the people of St. John and Puerto Rico and their perseverance," Bricker said. "I've never experienced that kind of positivity anywhere in the world. It's awesome."

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland.

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