LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — Niagara County first responders are gearing up for another winter season and they’ve added new all-terrain vehicles to their fleet in the hopes of helping residents, and saving lives.
After the deadly Christmas Blizzard in 2022, the sheriff’s office and other county leaders met to discuss how the county could improve rescue response for future storms.
“We got hit with the blizzard as well around Christmas Eve of last year. Following that, we really looked at our capabilities to see are there ways we can enhance our response and do things a little bit better,” Sheriff Michael Filicetti said.
The department lobbied the county’s legislature for additional funding, which they ultimately received. In total, the vehicles cost $400,000 and the purchase includes two new snow mobiles, two UTVs, and five ‘Track ‘N Go’ systems for pick-up trucks. In total, the sheriff’s office and department of emergency management share four snowmobiles and four UTVs.
“It got to the point where we had well over 100 people stranded in vehicles. We were still getting 911 calls for emergencies,” Filicetti continued. “We were still able to take 911 calls. We were still able to respond to those emergencies, but how can we do it better.”
The legislature approved the request quickly to get the gear in place before the snow flies this year.
“There was not a lot of discussion. It was basically unanimous,” Leg. David Godfrey, a Republican who represents the 10th District in Niagara County, said. “But there was a lot of discussion there to say how can we shore up things a little bit better. Where’s the need? Where’s the equipment need? More importantly, do we have those communications tied together tight enough to make sure we can respond quickly.”
The white out conditions and heavy snowfall rates made it difficult to respond to regular 911 calls and blizzard-related emergencies. The department says it wanted to invest in vehicles that would be able to be multi-purpose and work in a variety of conditions and terrains.
“These vehicles will go through a lot more than a typical four wheel drive vehicle will. We found during the blizzard our four wheel drive vehicles were getting stuck, so we would have to use plows and pay loaders from other highway departments to get where we needed to go,” Filicetti added.
The UTVs will assist in search and rescue missions as well as bring critical supplies or tools to areas that need them. It can also traverse over a lot of snow without getting stuck like a regular truck or car.
“This vehicle in the storm last year would’ve been key. This holds five other people, [and] getting supplies to people,” Deputy Paul Harrer said. “We are fully prepared. With this new equipment we are ready for the next storm for sure.”
The ‘Track ‘N Go’ systems are tracks that go underneath the tire on a regular truck, transforming it into an all-terrain vehicle. This will maximize the truck’s usage, especially during the winter months.
“It’s like turning a regular truck into a tank,” Harrer added. “Several of our vehicles were getting towed, getting pulled out of snow banks and out of parking lots [and this vehicle would prevent that].”
The department says communication will also play a critical role in handling the next storm. They want to keep the public informed and plan to use traditional and social media more frequently.
“I think it’s important for the public to know what’s going on, what we’re doing and how things are basically going within the county,” Filicetti said.
The county is also coordinating with volunteer fire companies to make sure they receive the proper training and have equipment, especially in rural towns there.
“There was a lot of discussion there to say how can we shore up things a little bit better. Where’s the need? Where’s the equipment need? More importantly, do we have those communications tied together tight enough to make sure we can respond quickly,” Godfrey said.
While there’s no snow on the ground yet, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office says they are constantly training, getting ready for what Old Man Winter has in store this winter.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.