The Story of a... Road Ranger
If you have a breakdown along I-4, Mike Cocomazze, 57, has the tools and the know-how to bring you up to speed.
Photo By Mark Losh Photography
Mike Cocomazze is one of 13 road rangers assigned to help motorists in need along a 74-mile stretch of Interstate 4 from Daytona Beach to the Osceola/Polk County line. The state Department of Transportation employs 276 road rangers along interstates and toll roads.
He works four 11-hour shifts a week and drives about 1,500 miles during that time. The No. 1 emergency: flat tires. “A lot of people don’t know how to change a tire, don’t have the necessary equipment, or are unsure if they should be doing it stranded on the side of the road,” he says.
Cocomazze hasn’t witnessed an emergency roadside birth yet. “Close calls, but no cigars.” But he has driven up on two young women fighting in the middle of the interstate and he has summoned help for a woman high on drugs running naked from her car along I-4 at 3:30 in the morning. “I thought I was imagining it. It took a second to think about it.”
Rangers are trained in first aid, CPR, defibrillator use and firefighting techniques, and they often assist at accident scenes. Their trucks are equipped with about 20 orange traffic cones, water, a cell phone, flares, a fire extinguisher, car jacks, battery cables, hose clamps, fuses, heater hoses, gasoline, air impact guns and cordless impact guns that are good for changing tires, as well as other odds and ends to make basic repairs.
The service is free, and road rangers aren’t allowed to accept tips. “People are always trying to give us stuff,” Cocomazze says. He’s been offered everything from a hundred dollar bill to concert tickets to trendy sneakers from a tennis shoe salesman (“What’s your size, man?”).
“There was a loose bull by the interstate that I had to corral at 2 in the morning. He was walking westbound in the eastbound lane.” The ranger set out a flare to warn traffic but the bull saw red and charged. Cocomazze hightailed it back to his truck. Another time, he saw an alligator in the road and, thinking the reptile was dead, yanked on the tail to remove it. ”He wasn’t dead. He started flopping around.”
Waking up motorists parked along the road can produce unexpected results. Once after Cocomazze did so, the motorist turned around and started driving in the wrong direction. Another time, an awakened driver—apparently homeless—looked up and said simply, “But I live here.”