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Ramping up for Gerhardt's return Firefighters ready residences for deputy injured in crash

The decorated veteran and Niagara County sheriff's deputy who lost both legs when his cruiser crashed July 18 could be released from Erie County Medical Center as soon as today.

And when Allen A. Gerhardt returns home to Newfane, he will be greeted with a wheelchair ramp donated by the Niagara Falls Home Depot and installed this week by firefighters from Wilson Fire Company No. 1.

"The fire companies depend on the police departments, and they rely on us, so it's kind of like a brotherhood," said Russell Jackman II, the fire company's first assistant chief. "It's just us giving back to fellow emergency medical service personnel at a time of need."

The fire company was called to give advanced life support at the accident scene, Jackman said, noting that Gerhardt has two uncles and a cousin in the fire company.

And, after fire officials learned Gerhardt would be spending time at his parents' home, also in Newfane, about a dozen firefighters installed another ramp there. That ramp, previously used by two now-deceased members of the fire company, was retrofitted to fit the home of Steven A. and Irene Gerhardt.

Gerhardt's father was "in awe" when he heard about the ramp being installed, Jackman said.

Allen Gerhardt, the father of three, has been making a steady recovery since the crash, sheriff's officials said, and will need continued rehabilitation.

The deputy lost both legs when his cruiser slammed sideways into a guardrail on Lake Road near Ransomville Road in Wilson. Gerhardt was on his way to help a fellow officer after receiving the report of a man fleeing on foot after being stopped on suspicion of drunken driving on Youngstown-Lockport Road.

Gerhardt, 36, later told friends he did not remember the crash or the moments leading up to it.

The quick actions of fellow sheriff's deputies likely saved his life. Deputies Jonathan Andres and Shawn Grapes rushed to Gerhardt's rescue, cutting him from his seat belt and applying tourniquets to both legs.

Gerhardt underwent 5 1/2 hours of surgery July 19, and his father said hundreds of deputies soon came to his son's room in the medical center.

Gerhardt, a decorated veteran who flew combat missions in Iraq, told Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour he wants to someday run again.

The sheriff called his deputy "a fighter," and the sheriff's secretary said Gerhardt has been looking into the possibility of prosthetic limbs.

Jackman said the dozen volunteers had only one concern: Gerhardt's future.

"We really didn't do it for notoriety and because people would recognize us," Jackman said. "We did it because it was a fellow first responder and it was a time of need for him. All we wanted was for us to put the ramp in, [make it] safe for his kids to use and walk away."