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AID SOUGHT FOR COSTLY ZOAR VALLEY RESCUES

Steve McCabe of Marek Road in the Town of Otto owns 1,300 feet of land along Cattaraugus Creek in the Zoar Valley, where a Getzville youth was seriously injured Monday night.

"When I heard that a 16-year-old kid was up there, I thought of the notion of personal responsibility," McCabe said Tuesday night. "All of that land is posted. Why can't we get stronger law enforcement to nip the front end of it?"

McCabe and 70 other residents turned out for a hastily called meeting in the Gowanda Fire Hall to discuss how local agencies can continue such rescues with their limited resources.

Ryan Schrader, a student at Williamsville North High School, fell about 15 feet down a waterfall at about 7 p.m., landing head-first on the rocks. He finally was airlifted to Erie County Medical Center at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The dramatic rescue -- the fifth one since May -- succeeded only because a Coast Guard helicopter was flown in from Detroit. A dozen or more such rescues occur here each summer.

McCabe said he has given rescue agencies keys to his gates, maps and tours of his property to help them deal with trespassers who frequently get into trouble.

Beatrice Bobseine of Forty Road in the Town of Otto, which also is used for access to the Zoar Valley, said hundreds of people wander into the woods on weekends and often don't observe the dawn-to-dusk rule in the 3,000-acre state property.

Gowanda Fire Chief Steven Raiport said nearly 50 members of nine agencies took part in Monday's rescue, as a 10th agency stood by with an ambulance to cover three townships.

"We do not receive any funding at all for this area," he said of Zoar Valley, which falls in both in Erie and Cattaraugus counties and the towns of Persia, Otto and Collins. "The fire departments and local police departments take the financial burden of buying the equipment (and) conducting search-and-rescue missions."

Rappeling rope, for example, costs $200 to replace after it has been used over sharp shale rock in a rescue, Raiport said.

Other law enforcement officials cited the need for thousands of dollars worth of equipment, including communications equipment to help agencies work together in emergency searches at night.

"Communication is critical," Gowanda Police Chief Joseph Alessi said. "There are so many (radio) frequencies used. Sometimes we have no way of communicating with a fire department except through the helicopter pilot. Being state land, the state should step up to the plate with money, equipment and more state personnel."

"The place has all the elements for a personal disaster," said Scott Patronik, chief of technical services for the Erie County Sheriff's Department. "They go there to hike, to rock-climb, to kayak. We need the right equipment to rescue them. We have one helicopter (which was out of service Monday) and a backup that is 36 years old."

Erie County Legislator Steve McCarville, R-Orchard Park, urged a concerted effort to fill the "wish list" of equipment.

e-mail: acardinale@buffnews.com

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