Several N.Y. officers honored for 2022 blizzard rescues
“You have to take what you have within your training and your plans and improvise — kind of call an audible and put it to work,” said Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia
By Maki Becker
The Buffalo News, N.Y.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — One officer carried a woman in labor through the snow. Six officers from E District formed a caravan to rescue stranded motorists. Another hitched a ride with a snowmobiler to get to work.
During the Blizzard of 2022 that paralyzed Western New York, Buffalo’s police officers were faced with life-threatening scenarios they had never imagined before.
“During a lot of emergency stressful situations, you have to improvise. You have to take what you have within your training and your plans and improvise — kind of call an audible and put it to work,” said Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia.
Last week, the police department held an awards ceremony to honor some of the heroes of the storm. In an old courtroom on an upper floor of the public safety building downtown, family members watched and snapped cellphone photos as the officers and a few civilians received their commendations from Mayor Byron W. Brown and the commissioner:
Mayor’s Award of Merit and Mayor’s Civilian Award of Merit: Officer Allana Laquerre and her parents, Stephen and Phyllis Laguerre. Officer Laquerre was monitoring calls from motorists stranded in whiteout conditions on Dec. 23, the day the blizzard began. She spoke to a family who was stuck in their vehicle at the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Howard Street — three children and two adults. She checked on them again the next day and they were still trapped in the same place and had run out of gas. They were in danger of freezing to death. Laquerre called her parents who live nearby and they offered to take the family in. Laquerre stayed on the phone with the family as they trudged through the blasting winds and snow until they got to her parents’ house. They ended up spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the Laquerres.
Civilian Distinguished Service Award: Jaamel Carr is the custodial engineer at the Ferry-Fillmore District Station House — C District — which turned into an emergency shelter during the blizzard. More than 50 civilians weathered the storm inside the police building. Carr stayed at the station for more than 48 hours, taking care of the civilians, stranded officers and the building. He cooked food and kept the stationhouse clean. He cleared entrances and exits over and over and made sure that the heat and water were operating.
Commissioner’s Leadership Award: Lt. Jenny Velez and Lt. Courtney Tripp were at C District where they faced an array of challenges, from taking care of civilians to coordinating rescues. At one point, the district’s dispatching system went down. They couldn’t receive incoming calls for assistance. Velez and Tripp figured out a way to reroute the calls into a Buffalo police laptop, and they served as the district’s dispatchers for the next 48 hours.
Lt. Vincent Judge report to work on Dec. 23, knowing it was likely he’d get stuck. He worked 48 hours straight and made key decisions including at one point commandeering lifesaving equipment.
Medal of Valor: Officers Shawn McCabe, Aaron Gervase, Lucas Maciejewski and Michael Kiripolsky were dispatched to a call about a woman in labor on Christmas Day. The officers determined she needed to get to a hospital right away. McCabe carried the woman through the snow to a vehicle. Then Gervase, with Kiripolsky’s help, drove a plow through blinding snow ahead of the vehicle the woman was in. Maciejewski waded through the snow to flag down a front-loader truck to help them. They got the woman to the hospital where she gave birth. The baby needed immediate emergency care.
Commissioner’s Medal of Commendation: Police Officers Christopher Bauer, Stephen Schulz, Nicholas Piazza, Branden Lowe, Andrew Dalgleish and Frank Menza created a caravan of three two-person vehicles as they searched for people stranded in cars and brought them back to the Northeast District stationhouse on Bailey Avenue. At one point, their patrol vehicles got stuck and together they walked half a mile in blizzard conditions to get to Erie County Medical Center where they were stranded for 24 hours.
Officer DeWayne Raye found himself stranded in his vehicle on the Skyway for more than 12 hours and had nearly run out of fuel when he was finally rescued. But he didn’t want to rest. Raye and Officer Kyma Dickinson used Raye’s personal vehicle to rescue more people.
Officer Robert Grande made his way to work on Christmas Eve, abandoning his own vehicle along the way. Once at the stationhouse, he helped triage calls and took care of civilians seeking refuge there. The next morning, Grande and Officer John Davidson worked together for 48 hours straight. Using a snowmobile to get around, they picked up food and prescriptions and delivered them to residents. They transported two people to Mercy Hospital when an ambulance crew couldn’t get to them. They also found a 10-year-old boy who had gone missing.
Officers Brian Walters and Community Police Officer Shree Siwakoti learned about a 99-year-old World War II veteran who had lost heat at his house that was a few blocks from the C District stationhouse. He wasn’t able to walk so the officers carried him to Fillmore Avenue where they were met by another officer who drove the man to the stationhouse to warm up.
Officers Brian Walters, Michael Scheu, Marc Hurst and Det. Derek Brennan responded to reports of stranded motorists on Route 33 and rescued a traveling nurse who was in a vehicle with her two dogs. She had run out of fuel. In another car, they found a man returning from his appointment at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Officers Mark Hilmey, Nathaniel Rodriguez and Adrian Pinto worked for 40 straight hours to rescue stranded motorists and other people in need, at one point using a National Guard F350 to get around.
Officer Patrick Eck and Connor Frascatore responded to a 911 call for a possible child drowning at a local hotel on Dec. 27. The first to arrive, they performed CPR as the father gave the child breaths. Frascatore realized there was an obstruction in the child’s throat and gave her back blows to get food and water out of her. The underwater recovery team arrived and took the child to Oishei Children’s Hospital. She died a few days later but family thanked them for giving them those extra days with their child.
Lt. Andrew Shea and Police Officers Clayton Reed, Dylan Ross and Emily Gawlak together rescued a sheriff’s deputy, an essential worker, a heavy equipment operator and other stranded civilians. But as they were conducting rescues, their own vehicles became stuck in snow. They came up with a plan to walk through the blizzard to the City Engineering Garage that was about 200 yards away. Then, Shea made the call to use plows and a high-lift at the garage to help them get to the South Buffalo district stationhouse. Reed, who happened to be a former plow driver, drove a plow. The deputy drove the other. The civilian heavy equipment operator who had been rescued drove the high-lift. Together they were able to get everyone to the stationhouse safely before continuing with more rescues.
Commissioner’s Unit Award: Gramaglia commended the SWAT, the Underwater Recovery Team and the Homicide Squad who did welfare checks on residents and recovered the bodies of the dead, an operation coordinated by Chief of Detectives Craig Macy and led by SWAT Commander Lt. Peter Nigrelli, URT Commander Lt. Peter Kocol and Homicide Squad Captain Craig Leone. The teams’ special training along with equipment made them uniquely suited for the grim task of going through the long list of calls from people worried about loved ones.
(c)2023 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)
Visit The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.) at www.buffalonews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.