NIAGARA FALLS, NY (WIVB) – The power of the mighty Niagara River is often dangerous to those who step on it. That’s why the New York State Park Police are always training for brave water rescues.
NYS Park Police Officer Nathan Sibenik is one of 11 highly trained members of the force’s Rapid Water Rescue Team.
“It can be a mixed mix,” Sibenik said. “It can be people on the rocks who fall in, it can be people in the middle of the river who need rescuing, we don’t know how to get there.” But we just know we have to get them out.”
News 4’s cameras were rolling on Monday afternoon as Sibenik waded through water at a speed of 60 km/h for a training exercise near Horseshoe Falls.
“These ropes are subjected to enormous loads,” said Sibenik. “When they go into the water, a force of 80 to 100 pounds can occur. Plus the power of water.”
Attached to a rope, Sibenik balances with a green pike pole.
He tests the water depth and looks for underwater obstacles to achieve his rescue goal.
“They pulled me in and we just hugged underarms,” added Officer Sibenik. “Of course I would bring a PFT, put it on that person and then we would latch and take them straight to shore.”
Another important part of the park police’s job is keeping boaters safe and keeping them out of the federally restricted exclusion zone in the Niagara River, a few miles from the falls’ rim.
“The old adage goes that if you’re not up to the task, you fall below your level of training,” said Major Clyde Doty of the New York Parks Police Department.
Major Doty said boaters who ignore prohibition signs near the falls are putting their lives at risk.
A shallow reef in the danger area can disable boats and cause them to drift toward shore.
“There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye, yes,” Major Doty said.
So far this year, park police have rescued seven people at the falls, four of whom have assisted the Swift Water Rescue team.
“It’s like nowhere else in the world and that’s why our men and women just have to get out there and train in the environment where we do rescue operations,” added NYS Park Police Capt. Chris Rola.
Patrick Ryan is an award-winning reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here And Follow him on Twitter.