NY teen joins fire department after being rescued

He recently began training to participate in the type of rope rescue operations that saved his life

By Stephen T. Watson
The Buffalo News

GOWANDA, N.Y. — Last November, it was Drew Carriero who needed rescuing, after a fall of hundreds of feet left him badly injured and unable to move at the bottom of a gorge at Zoar Valley.

Several hundred firefighters, police and other first responders — including some who spent hours with Carriero as Cattaraugus Creek surged next to them — helped get him out.

Next time, Carriero hopes to be on that rescue team.

"I want to be able to help people," he said Sunday.

The 19-year-old college student has joined the Gowanda Fire Department and over the weekend began training to participate in rope rescue operations — like the kind that saved his life.

For Carriero, who is studying toward an associate's degree in criminal justice at Jamestown Community College, it's a natural extension of his desire to work in law enforcement. But he also wants to give back to the rescuers who helped him, and that attitude has impressed other emergency responders.

"I have a high respect for someone who was once a victim who would be willing now to spend time to learn and develop techniques that could help save another person's life in the future," said Scott R. Patronik, special services chief in the Erie County Sheriff's Office.

Sunday, Carriero, Patronik and representatives from a cross section of local, county and state agencies took part in the third of three days of training in rope rescues. The training was led by the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control with the Erie County Division of Fire Safety.

Most of the training was done at the Erie County Emergency Services Training and Operations Center in Cheektowaga. But on Sunday afternoon, they moved about one mile away to a parking lot, located where Ellicott Road dead-ends as it overlooks Dick Road, to practice low-angle rescues.

There, across Dick Road from the Amtrak station, they set up a rope system to lower rescuers down a modest incline to the sidewalk below.

After the rescuers assessed the condition of the victim, played by a colleague, they strapped him into a rescue lift, and he was raised up to the parking lot.

"This is a perishable skill," said Ed Kasperek, president of the all-volunteer Niagara Frontier Search & Rescue Team. "It's much like learning a language. Many times, if you don't practice, you can lose it."

Carriero was part of a group from the Gowanda Fire Deparment, which he joined two months ago, who took took part in the weekend's training.

The real deal
Five months ago, what Carriero and his rescuers went through wasn't a drill at all.

On the morning of Nov. 22, Carriero had been hunting with a family friend near Point Peter Road in the Town of Persia in Cattaraugus County. Carriero said they got separated as he tracked a deer, and before he realized it, he was too close to the edge of the gorge.

He thinks he took a step or two before falling 400 feet to the bottom. "I slid 350, and the last 50 was a straight drop," Carriero recalled Sunday.

He had two skull fractures, a fractured orbital bone, a dislocated shoulder and a fractured femur. A gash on his forehead was so deep that when he touched it, Carriero said, "I could feel my skull."

He tried to get out of the creek waters but couldn't.

Rescuers got a good idea of his location by "pinging" his cell phone, which he had used five minutes before he fell.

The crew of the Erie County Sheriff's Air One helicopter found him after about five hours, at 3:30 p.m., but they weren't able to fly him out.

A team of rescuers managed to cross the churning creek to reach Carriero. But they couldn't walk him out of there and they had to be rescued themselves, along with Carriero, by state police who rappelled down to the gorge bottom.

Carriero, who was lifted out in the early hours of the next morning, said he's always tried to appreciate life.

"Now it's just extra," said Carriero, who has a scar above his right eye.

He hasn't been back to the embankment since his accident. But the soft-spoken young man, who wants to join the U.S. Marshals Service, said he's ready if he gets called to pull someone out of the gorge.

"If I have to, I will, to help somebody else," Carriero said.

Copyright 2011 The Buffalo News
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