News 4 is looking back at the Blizzard of ’22 one year later. All of our stories can be found here.
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — There were harrowing rescues during some of the toughest winter weather conditions ever to hit Western New York. Buffalo Police Department officers continued patrolling the streets during the height of the Blizzard of ’22 last December.
Leading residents to safety via flashlight, discovering stranded cars with people stuck inside and even hearing a woman cry out for help in the abyss of white snow. Those are only some of the tasks first responders were asked to do during the historic storm.
The Buffalo Police Department released seven videos of officers responding to calls during the blizzard. Now, officers are reflecting on that storm one year later.
“It got to a point where it was like out of a movie,” Officer Scott Aldinger, who has served in the Buffalo Police Department for nearly four years, said. “It was surreal. There’s no training for that. There’s no practice for that.”
Officers said they patrolled the streets the best they could during the frigid, windy and snowy conditions none of them had ever seen before.
“There’s obviously been a lot you experience in this job, but nothing like this to date,” Lieutenant Michael Maritato, an 11-year veteran of the department, added.
Officers described the driving conditions, saying they could not see due to blowing snow. It appears there were two officers per car in these videos, the passenger often directing the driver so the car would not veer off-road.
“When we stepped outside for the first time after some snow had really come down and it was in the peak conditions, it was hard to believe what we were seeing. You couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face when you stuck it out there at some points,” Aldinger said.
In one video, officers can be seen responding to a woman having chest pains while stranded in her vehicle and transporting her to Buffalo General Hospital.
Officer: Are you having a medical emergency? Do you need to get to the hospital?
Woman: I’ve been having chest pains.
Officer: Okay, so what we can do is… grab your coat. Grab your coat we are going to my police car.
The latter part of the trip was on foot due to their police cruiser getting stuck in the snow.
Officer 1: How much further are we? Anchor Bar is right there. It’s at the corner do you think she can walk? Does she have a hat?
Officer 2: Yeah.
Officer 1: We gotta walk. We gotta walk.
In another video, officers are seen rescuing eight people stranded inside a building, guiding them to two trucks. One officer, on foot, led the trucks by flashlight until they reached Bailey Avenue. He later got into the passenger seat, directing the trucks until they reached the station house. The officer can be heard yelling and jumps out of the car to hug another officer when they arrive.
Officer: We’re on Elk heading towards Bailey.
Dispatcher: Are you walking?
Officer: I’m only walking them out of Elk Street. I am going to hop in the car once we get to Bailey. It’s getting bad out here.
On Dec. 23, Aldinger found a woman walking alone in the street. She called for help in the distance and they brought her to safety in the police cruiser.
Woman: Somebody help! Can you take me home?
Officer Aldinger: Where’s home? Okay, you can go in the back of my police car.
Other videos depicted stranded motorists with children and dogs inside their vehicles being assisted by officers.
“Conditions deteriorated to the point where we couldn’t respond with our patrol vehicles. They were all either stuck or in the parking lot unable to get out or disabled in some way. At that point, we started to respond to some calls on foot, and it even got to a point later on where we couldn’t get out of the station house to respond to calls,” Aldinger said.
When the snow and winds were at their peak, officers were relegated to answering the phones, trying to provide assistance to people who needed them.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a position where I’ve felt so defeated and helpless when it got to a point that we couldn’t even get out there to assist people who were calling out for our help,” Aldigner continued.
BPD officers know their patrol routes like the back of their hands. During this once-in-a-generation storm, everything faded into whiteness, with people and cars showing up out of nowhere.
“These are our streets that we patrol. There were points driving around in the peak of it where we didn’t know what street we were on and it was hard to keep track,” Aldinger said.
Maritato was not scheduled to work that weekend but came in on Christmas to relieve officers who had been stuck for days. Like many Western New Yorkers, he was snowed in, but his E District chief was able to pick him up and bring him into work. After a quick call to a family friend, Maritato was able to secure food from a local restaurant for his station house.
“With my wife being pregnant, I said I would want to return the favor if God forbid I was in that situation to kind of get those guys home to their wife and kid. That was my situation, just trying to get relief for some of the guys who had been stuck,” Maritato added.
Other officers began coming in, too. Some even traveled on the backs of snowmobiles just to make it in to help in the clean-up.
“At this point, Christmas morning, it took us hours to travel. It took us maybe three hours to go three miles,” Maritato said. “It’s one thing that was always the silver lining in these situations is to see other officers step up and to say the least, a ton of people stepped up.”
He remembers trying to make it to residents’ homes after they called for help. He also said officers brought people food and made welfare checks to make sure people weathered the storm. He is grateful for the civilian snowmobiles who helped bring his team to people in need in the wake of the storm.
“I’ve never been on a snowmobile, let alone being on Bailey Avenue on a snowmobile. It’s something I never expected in my career,” Maritato said.
Moving forward, officers hope additional resources, like snowmobiles and other tracked vehicles, will be used during these types of storms. They say those vehicles were critical to getting to residents when the snow piled up.
Buffalo Police confirmed to News 4 the department purchased six UTVs for winter storm response. They can also be used all year round for parades, festivals and other events, according to City Officials.
“We tried. We tried as best we could with what we had,” Aldinger said. “Like I said, I hope we can learn from what happened and I hope we can improve our tactics and our equipment and our training going forward.”
While there’s no snow on the ground yet, officers said they stand ready to serve if Mother Nature brings the worst to Buffalo again.
“I can give you a guarantee that the officers, firemen, EMS, everyone that was working, they were trying their absolute hardest to do what they could do. It’s a guarantee in the future that they’ll continue to try their hardest to do whatever they can do to help,” Maritato concluded.
Although there were several heroic rescues during the Blizzard of ’22 that led to many lives being saved, 47 residents lost their life across Erie and Niagara counties during the storm.
The full bodycam videos can be found on the Buffalo Police Department’s YouTube channel.