Gerace: Restructured Water Rescue Team Includes Mix Of Police And Fire Personnel

JAMESTOWN-  The Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office said they’ve reconfigured their dive team into a water emergency team.    

“The Chautauqua County Water Emergency Team (C.C.W.E.T.) tries to do get to people before it’s a recovery,” said Sheriff Joe Gerace. “Fire services is part of the water emergency team so it’s not just a sheriff’s office dive team.”

Gerace said sometimes saving lives under water is difficult because you only have a handful of minutes once that person goes under water.

There are several responses based on the type of emergency that the team is asked to respond to. The team is trained to respond to things like overturned vessels or boaters in jeopardy.

“The response time depends on where and when it happens,” said Gerace.  “Because of the size of the county, your responders may be coming from various locations.

WNYNewsNow asked Gerace for some perspective on rescue efforts and how they are coordinated (Locally, this was a hot topic after Buffalo Police recovered one of their own from the fast-moving waters of the Niagara River).

“We wouldn’t ordinarily put the diver in by himself, (so) you have to have a support crew,” Gerace said. “They (Dive Team) train regularly. They all have other duties but my patrol captain is my head of the end of the operation.”

“They are all diver trained and certified like any other recreational diver.”

When you enter into the water emergency team, you must pass a physical and be a certified diver. Gerace said they do not look to the “newcomer.”

Gerace admits that the Chautauqua County Water Emergency Team isn’t dealing with some of the elements that others teams are like Buffalo.

“We do not have as much of a potential for a fast-water situation, like the Niagara River, where that water never stops moving,” Gerace said.

Buffalo Police did call on the county’s water emergency team to assist in the recovery of Officer Craig Lehner.

Gerace said his team was not in the area of the discovery of the officer’s body.

“Our guys yesterday were not assigned to the area where Officer Lehner was discovered because they were working in another area, running sonar, to see what they could see at the bottom of the river.”