Niagara Falls rescuers on training in Niagara River

Hear from Niagara Falls Fire and Parks Police Major Clyde Doty

Mike Baggerman
November 11, 2019 - 3:00 am

Photo Courtesy of WIVB

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NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WBEN) - Rescuers in Niagara Falls train multiple times per year for scenarios where a person is in the Niagara River and near the brink of the falls.

For 12 of the 16 firefighters who responded to last week's rescue of a man who was less than 100 yards from plummeting over Niagara Falls, it was their first ever rescue attempt in the Niagara River, according to the City of Niagara Falls Fire Department.

"We do conduct multi-company drills throughout the year," Fire Chief Joe Pedulla told WBEN. "We do a lot of ice rescue drills. That's more of what we're catering to here. Parks Police have traditionally been the swift water rescue team but we've started to incorporate into the swift water as well."

Pedulla compared their work last week to their usual training when rappelling in Niagara Gorge.

"It's all ropes and hardware and pickoff points and setup," Pedulla said. "Whether we're in the water or the gorge, the structure is the same in terms of putting the pieces together."

He said they've had 12 rescues in Niagara Gorge in 2019 but far less instances of water rescues.

Pedulla and Battalion Chief Sam Fasciano both said they were proud of their firefighters for the successful rescue, especially since it was their first time for many.

"We've trained for it but many haven't done rescues before," Fasciano said. "This is a lot of pressure. It's their first time. They have the public there. We're like trained athletes, we just don't know when the game is. (Thursday) was our game. We went out and performed flawlessly."

Thursday's dramatic scene saw fire officials begin to take the man away only for him to break free from a flotation collar and move down river. He was stopped by New York State Parks Police Major Clyde Doty who has had experience in rescues in the Niagara River.

"It was something I saw," Doty told reporters. "I was trying to maintain command and control. In doing so, something struck me and I said we have to get to this one spot...At that moment we grabbed two suits and ran to that one area and we came out in the water as we did. The timing, it's not we were staged and waiting. We made the decision, ran down there, got our suits on, and made our way to that water's edge. When we got there, that's when we heard the screams of the onlookers and saw the victim start to slip away."

Doty, despite unanimous praise from his colleagues and the public, does not want to be known as a hero.

"I don't like that term at all," he said. "It's just a situation that we saw. We acted on it right then."

For Doty, it was one of the three major rescues he's had in his career.

While Niagara Falls is considered one of the greatest wonders of the world, there are people who use the location to take their own life. Doty said that there are preventative measures in place including regular patrols and fencing. However, he said that they can't fence every section of Niagara Falls.

"At some point, common sense has to come into play," he said. "If there's an intentional act, it doesn't matter what kind of fences you have. If there's an intentional act and somebody gets out there and has a change of heart and they want our help, just like we did (Thursday), the circumstances play no part in it. If somebody is out there, we are going to try our hardest to get them."

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255
Erie County's Crisis Service Hotline is 716-834-3131
Niagara County's Crisis Service Hotline is 716-285-3515

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