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Learning the ropes to save some lives

A look at the training of the Erie County Sheriff's Office Rope Rescue Unit.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — As the weather gets nicer, many of us will be looking to get outside and take in some of the great parks and trails we have all around us. But with that beauty, comes a potential for danger. Never fear, there is a team of first responders here in Western New York that is training year round to be able to jump into action, if we get into trouble.

"It is beautiful, but there are also some very dangerous spots that you should be noteworthy of when you're walking in the area," said Erie County Sheriff's Office Special Service Division Chief Brian Britzzalaro.

Chris Couell of the Erie County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services adds, "It's a lot more dangerous than people think... when gravity takes over, you don't have a lot to stop."

Deputy Andrew Carriero knows that first hand. Ten years ago, when he was just 18, he found himself on the other side of a rescue. 

"I was hunting in Zoar Valley when I fell off the cliff and ended up needing a rope rescue to get me out of the gorge," Carriero said.

The Erie County Sheriff's Office responded and one of the people on the rescue is someone he now calls Captain. 

Capt. Warren Hawthorn recalls, "It was during hunting season so the weather was rather inclement, and that rescue in particular is what spurred the creation of the Erie County Sheriff's Office Rope Rescue Unit." 

That's right, that very rescue is what led to the creation of this special unit.

The Rope Rescue Team is comprised of 18 members, who also work in conjunction with volunteers from the Gowanda Fire Department, and D.E.C Forest Rangers. It is a group of elite officers with a very specialized skill set says Couell, "So we have to specialize train and have these guys out here and know how to do the rigging, the proper work to do it safely and help somebody to get back up and get them to the medical care they need."

They let 2 On Your Side's cameras come along on one of their training drills on the cliffs above the eternal flame in Chestnut Ridge Park. The unit is part of the Sheriff's Special Services Division which covers everything from the SWAT team to narcotics investigations, underwater recovery, the bomb squad, even computer crimes. But this time of year, the rope rescue team trains hard because, as Undersheriff William Cooley says, with more people out, the next rescue could come at any time. 

"You know with a nice weather coming people are going to hit the trails and unfortunately that comes with some risks so these guys train hard so in the event there's an emergency, they'll be ready and capable," Cooley said.

And that expertise has been put to good use, with more than 30 rescues in just the past two years.

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