Fire Island National Seashore Names New Chief Ranger

By Lucie Lagodich ~ After a lengthy interview process, Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) has announced that Erik Westpfahl has been named as new Chief of Visitor and Resource Protection. He will begin his new position in September. He brings more than 20 years of law enforcement, emergency services, and resource protection experience to Fire Island.“We selected him based on his very diverse background. He works with the State Police, he’s also a paramedic. He came up through the ranks really quickly at Lake Mead and became the Chief Ranger at Carlsbad Caverns,” said FINS Superintendent Alexcy Romero.“It just seemed like he has this diverse skill set, this experience. What I liked about him is the level of commitment that he has. He commits his personal time to doing the right thing. To work in the Fire Island community, you need that, you need to extend yourself beyond your salary. You want to embed yourself in the community and know that you’re a part of that community. That’s what I got from him.”Westpfahl began his career as a police officer in Wisconsin before serving active duty in the U.S. Army. Once he returned, he served as a police officer, county deputy, state police officer, trained as a paramedic and was a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone over the course of 15 years. In 2008, he began a career at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.Due to his diverse portfolio, Romero felt that Westpfahl would be a great fit because of the diversity of the 17 communities they oversee, and its corresponding leadership.“I just hope that even though it’s heading into the shoulder season that I can introduce him to many of the community leaders as well as the law enforcement arm and the community before the season completely ends,” Romero said.Without a chief ranger over the past year, much of the responsibility of this role has fallen on Romero, the deputy superintendent and district rangers.“We need to bring the districts together to begin making sure that we’re all working in synchrony. All of us, whether it’s within the communities, within the county, or within the town because there’s so many different layers within Fire Island and the National Seashore. It’s just really important to add that presence there because it’s just been us acting in that capacity… so this is going to provide some consistency,” Romero said.He added that he is excited for Westpfahl to start and fill their need for additional leadership in the law enforcement area after the retirement of John Stewart, the previous chief ranger.Westpfahl is also thrilled to begin his position at Fire Island National Seashore. “He will be moving to Long Island with his wife who currently works as a museum technician and archaeologist,” according to a written statement released by FINS at the end of July. “Together they enjoy astronomy, history, and museums.”Westpfahl declined to be interviewed prior to taking his post in September. He is scheduled to relocate from the West Coast to Long Island over the next few weeks. The application process was conducted remotely due to the pandemic.