Erie County SWAT Team trains on skis and snowshoes

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BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) It’s not the way you usually see the SWAT Team in action. On Wednesday, members of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office tactical units took part in the latest in a series of cold weather training on skis and snowshoes at Sprague Brook Park in the Town of Concord.

“I think one of the greatest strengths of what the Sheriff’s department can offer here, this is just a greater way for us to serve the community,” said Lt. Neil Held, a member of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team and Bomb Squad.

A few winters ago, when many people became trapped in their vehicles during a storm, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office took a better look at ways to get to them, according to SWAT Team Captain Warren Hawthorn. “If a vehicle, regardless of how large the vehicle is, can’t get into a narrow spot or snow is simply too deep for a snowmobile, the last resort is you have to go get those peple on foot or on skiis or on snow shoes and this gives us that ability to do that.”

The ability to get to them on foot could be a matter of life or death, according to Lt. Held. “Maybe it’s dropping off blankets to them, or some type of cold weather supplies to help sustain them through them being stranded wherever it is that they are, so if they need to be evacuated then we have that capability also.”

The Erie County Sheriff’s Office received a tactical team grant through the New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to pay for the type of training which took place Wednesday at Sprague Brook Park in Concord.

In early February, 25 members of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad and SWAT Team took part in similar training at places like Holiday Valley and Kissing Bridge to get used to all sorts of terrain. 

Most members of the SWAT Team are also trained as EMT’s, but this team even includes emergency room Dr. Kevin McGee. “He’s an emergency room physician and works for the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. We’re really lucky to have him work with the SWAT Team as the chief medical advisor,” said Lt. Held.

For some of this special operations crew, it may be their first training on skiis or snowshoes so they’re more prepared for whatever may happen next, according to Captain Hawthorn. “If there’s hikers or snow shoers or cross country skiers on any of the trails throughout Erie County or Western new york they should befall and accident or get injured, somehow you need to go in and get them, we have the ability to to go in and rescue them.”

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