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Emergency Official Calls Lake Rescue ‘Nothing Short Of A Miracle’

County Executive Vince Horrigan announces the appointment of John Griffith as the new Chautauqua County Emergency Services director on Friday in Mayville. Griffith, pictured with Horrigan, will take over for Julius Leone. P-J photo by Jimmy McCarthy

Chautauqua County’s director of emergency services is calling the rescue of four men from an overturned vessel Saturday morning on Chautauqua Lake “nothing short of a miracle.”

John C. Griffith, in a letter to the OBSERVER and Post-Journal, commended the efforts by all agencies and individuals to rescue two Jamestown residents and one from Panama and Frewsburg on the cold, dark December morning.

Chautauqua County sheriff’s deputies reported that a pedestrian called 911 after hearing calls of distress on the lake near Lakeside Drive in Bemus Point around 6 a.m. Deputies and members of the Chautauqua County Water Emergency Team arrived on scene within five minutes. At that time, the subjects had been in the water for approximately 30 minutes.

“To have those four men capsized in Chautauqua Lake in the daytime in the summer with all the clothing on that they were wearing and survive would be something to acknowledge,” Griffith said. “To have it happen in the dark on a cold December morning with the results achieved this morning, is nothing short of a miracle.”

Griffith said law enforcement, volunteer fire service and the Chautauqua County Water Emergency Team were dispatched for the incident. The county response plans were activated and moving together. “From the time of dispatch to the end, professionalism from the Dispatchers directing and informing throughout,” he said. “All part of a great team working together.

“The response from the Chautauqua County sheriff’s deputies and the New York State Police was quick. Entrance into the lake with what they could find along the shore in the form of row boats, kayaks and what they could grab made the difference that carried the day. Responders in the water was the message that came across the radios. Going to bring the victims to shore was the goal at that time. Quick response in harm’s way to save others.”

According to deputies, only one subject was wearing a personal floatation device. All four subjects were experiencing symptoms of hypothermia and unable to swim.

“Bemus Point Volunteer Fire Department responded quickly, established command on shore and also launched a boat to respond to the incident in the Lake,” Griffith noted. “The response for that early in the morning was a true credit to the professionalism of the members. When more ambulances were called to respond, Maple Springs Fire Department was already at their fire hall and ready to respond. Ellery Center Fire Department was also called and the response was just as quick. In Chautauqua County I would not expect anything less. Chautauqua County Advanced Life Support Intercept Units from Falconer and Mayville, Medic 73 & Medic 74, both responded to provide a Paramedic to assist the Fire Departments.”

Deputies were able to swim out and bring in two subjects. Bemus Point and Ellery Center Volunteer Fire personnel utilized watercraft to rescue the remaining two subjects.

The four male subjects were identified as Daniel F. Auria, 39, of Panama, Jonathon Bellardo, 31, of Frewsburg, Matthew Calimeri, 30, of Jamestown, and Howard Talbot, 39, of Jamestown. All four subjects were transported to UPMC Chautauqua Hospital for treatment of hypothermia symptoms, and are expected to recover fully.

“When Emergency Medical Services are needed in the County, all citizens are fortunate to have such a robust response from all parts of the system,” Griffith said.

“Please pass this on to all of the individuals involved, how much their sacrifice and service is appreciated by the Office of Emergency Services, and the entire County of Chautauqua. Incidents such as this, as we all know do not always end as this did. Today, in Chautauqua Lake, the mission was to save lives and today, that mission was successfully completed.

“Take pride in the outcome. Know that you all do make a difference for the people you serve.

“Thank you.”

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