Teen Driver Rescued From Vehicle Floating Down Catt. Creek

Emergency service personnel are attempting to rescue the vehicle that is stuck in Cattaraugus Creek on Monday. The 19-year-old driver, Naomi Silleman of Forestville, was saved and transported to Erie County Medical Center for treatment. On scene, the driver had signs of hypothermia. Photo submitted by Bianka Johnson

GOWANDA — On Monday, while putting out a barn fire at Dayton’s Pagett Farm on Route 62 — where he’d been since 10:08 a.m. — Gowanda Fire Chief Nick Crassi received a distress call around 2 p.m.

The call was notifying Crassi that a teenager was trapped in her vehicle, floating down Cattaraugus Creek.

Crassi said the driver of the vehicle, 19-year-old Naomi Silleman of Forestville, drove over a steep section of the creek’s bank. The fire chief and members of Gowanda Fire Department left the Dayton fire and met with Sunset Bay firefighters to rescue Silleman.

Silleman was in communication with dispatch as her vehicle was filling up. Crassi said she did not open any windows or doors as the Sports Utility Vehicle was submerged in water with an air temperature of 36 degrees. The vehicle was behind the parking lot at Shop’N Save when they arrived.

“Thank God (the vehicle) stayed up right and floated up, down near (Creekside) Park,” Crassi added. “We had to send our water rescue team and we figured out a plan and rescued her from the vehicle. The vehicle filled up with water and the team saved her.”

She was taken by the Seneca Nation of Indians Ambulance to Erie County Medical Center to treat the signs of hypothermia and effects of being in the chilling water.

“She’s so fortunate,” he added. “She went down a steep part of the parking lot. She could have easily rolled over. I think her guardian angel was looking after her.”

The day had been hectic for the Gowanda Volunteer Fire Department. From the Dayton fire to a false alarm fire (that Collins Fire Department checked) on South Water Street in Gowanda to the vehicle in Cattaraugus Creek — the firefighters had their plates full.

“It’s been extremely hectic,” Crassi said. “It’s been one of those days where we are quiet for a long time and then we get three or four calls in a row and we get this. We are short on manpower, too.”

Crassi added that Gowanda used to have triple-digit numbers of firefighters. That is not the case in 2018.

“We learned to work with fewer guys than we had years before,” Crassi said. “Back in the day, it was nothing to have 100 fireman. Now, we have 40 and 25 of them are active guys. So, it’s getting pretty tight, whether it’s officers to direct them or it’s (firefighters) to attack the fire the proper way. This really stresses the firemen to the limit.”

On April 28-29, Gowanda Fire Department will participate in the RecruitNY program, which will demonstrate what firemen and women do and the trainings they take. It will be at the fire hall at 230 Aldrich St., Gowanda.

“It’s not just firefighting,” Crassi said of their work.

The department also is trained in water training (which was utilized Monday), repelling for Zoar Valley rescues and more.

“That’s why we constantly train,” Crassi said. “Training is important to be safe. We are volunteers and we put the extra time to do. It’s the same as a paid firefighter.”

There are benefits as well for being a firefighter that are not just serving the community. There are tax benefits and a plethora of trainings.

The Dayton barn fire was a total loss and as of 3 p.m., the barn was being leveled and firefighters were checking to see if there were any hotspots still available.