Profound bravery, courage and selflessness.
Those are the terms that come immediately to mind as we consider the events of Nov. 7, 2019, when a desperate man found clinging to a log in the middle of the raging rapids of the upper Niagara River was rescued by four of Niagara County’s finest police officers and firefighters.
By now, the whole region and likely much of the nation and even the world has had time to digest just how miraculous a rescue this was.
Video of the at-times uncertain sequence of events spread rapidly as media outlets like this one started circulating the story about the daring efforts of New York State Parks Police Major Clyde Doty and Niagara Falls firefighters Aaron Malstrom, Gordy Stewart and Gerald Frazier, who waded out in the water to save a man from floating over the American Falls.
The whole ordeal lasted roughly two hours and included at least one failed rescue bid that saw the man slip out of a flotation device that had been wrapped around him by Stewart and Frazier and float further down river, closer to the brink.
It was then that the quick-thinking Doty, tethered to a line attached to the Luna Island shore, made his way out through the rushing water and found himself positioned almost perfectly as the man drifted his way. Doty managed to pull the man toward him and anchored in place by wedging one foot in a crevice in the riverbed and placing his other foot against a rock.
Malstrom, who was also tethered to Luna Island, made one attempt to reach Doty and the man, but slipped and fell briefly, forcing him to return to land for another try. On his second approach, Malstrom wisely moved a bit further up the river before working his back to Doty and the man, who were then pulled to shore.
What at times looked bleak ended in a successful rescue, giving the man, whose was listed in stable condition at the time of this writing, another chance to live another day.
After the breathtaking river rescue, a calm Doty addressed the media, essentially saying he was confident that rescuers would get the job done because they were well-trained and able to keep their wits about them.
“I’m glad it all worked out,” Doty said matter-of-factly.
It did work out, thanks to this group of brave first responders.
In our region, which is home to the falls and the Niagara Gorge, there’s always the possibility a resident or a visitor can end up in a difficult situation either along a trail with which they are not familiar or, in a case like this, on a river that leads to near-certain death with a fall over the falls.
Niagara Falls Fire Chief Joe Pedulla commended Doty and the three firefighters for their bravery and credited their training with helping them to pull off what, at times, looked like an improbable rescue.
When duty called, they were ready.
“You never know when something like this is going to happen and, of course, that’s why you have to be ready when it does,” Pedulla said.
While Doty, Frazier, Stewart and Malstrom would no doubt deflect any kudos for doing their jobs so well under the most challenging circumstances, we must as a community recognize their heroics and realize that their actions, broadcast around the globe, brought the best kind of attention to our community.
In the eyes of the nation and even the world this week, one state parks major and three Niagara Falls firefighters showed tremendous determination and nerves of steel, giving all of us a bit of a boost in our hometown pride.
Most important, of course, these men put their own lives on the line to save the life of another. In other words, they did their jobs.
As is the case with all police officers and firefighters, we simply can’t thank them enough.