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Buffalo firefighters use boat to rescue stranded motorists in flooded road

Thursday night's rainstorm was so severe that Buffalo firefighters had to save some stranded motorists – with their rescue boat.

The area's record rainfall Thursday led to flooding in the viaduct at Tonawanda and Niagara streets, where two cars became submerged.

Firefighters helped rescue the occupants of one vehicle with some creative use of their truck's ladder, while the second was even more innovative: They used their rescue boat Zodiac to help a woman who had climbed atop her car in the rising waters.

Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo said it's the first time to his knowledge that the department's Zodiac water rescue boat, an inflatable boat with an outboard motor that the department uses throughout the summer for incidents on the water, has been used in a rescue involving a flooded viaduct.

"The water rescue team is trained to a high level, and we're flexible as well," said Renaldo. "Every scene is different, every incident is different, so we rely on our training and experience ... and whatever resources we have available."

Renaldo said that when units arrived just after 8:20 p.m. Thursday night, two vehicles were under water.

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"They were three-quarters submerged, and there was a young lady on the roof of her car waiting to be rescued," he said, "that's how deep the water was."

Renaldo credited Ladder 5 for reaching three people atop a pickup truck with creative use of its ladder.

"Ladder 5 did a great job when they got there, just having the wherewithal to extend the aerial pretty much parallel to the ground to extricate the individuals from the pickup truck," Renaldo said.

A firefighter stands on the grass next to flooded intersection of Niagara and Tonwanda streets Thursday night where a pickup truck is stuck in the water. (David Kazmierczak/Special to The News)

That left the woman on top of her car.

"The young lady was too far out for truck 5, who made the initial rescue to the three victims in the truck," said firefighter Jamie Silvestri, part of Rescue 1's water rescue team with crewmates Devron Hill and Mike Pratt. "We just pulled up as a team, deployed the boat and did what we're trained to do, go out and get her to safety.

"She was shaking. She was nervous. But once we got her in the Zodiac, you don't come down. She was a little emotional, but we got her to laugh and got her safety."

Renaldo, who credited Capt. Dan O'Leary of Ladder 5 and Lt. Mike Chase of Rescue 1 for leading Thursday's operations, said that all individuals who were rescued did not sustain any injuries.

"Everyone's fine," Renaldo said.

"Our firefighters and other city workers group routinely do a great job," said Mayor Byron W. Brown. "They train for times like this. We certainly commend the firefighters that were involved with that rescue, and other city workers that have just been out overnight, making sure that people were safe and responding to concerns and complaints, as needed."

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