NIAGARA FALLS: A rescue reunion for Falls firefighters
Canadian man shows appreciation for gorge rescue

By Rick Pfeiffer/
Niagara Gazette
Mike Janssen doesn’t remember much of what happened to him on the hot humid July night in the Niagara River gorge last year.

One minute he was stuck on a stone on his Jet Ski, the next he was in the Erie County Medical Center fighting for his life.

He does know that if not for some Niagara Falls firefighters, he might not have won his life and death battle and that brought him back to the Falls on Monday to say thank you to the men who found him on the shoreline, gave him first aid and then carried him out of the gorge to a waiting medical helicopter.

“I really wanted to thank everybody,” said Janssen, surrounded by family who also wanted to show their appreciation. “What they did was awesome, awesome.”

Falls Fire Battalion Chief Nicholas Vilardo had another thought.

“If it wasn’t for the skill and experience of the firefighters who responded, I don’t think (Mike) would have survived,” Vilardo said. “We’ve done (rescues) like these before, but not always with the same good results.”

Temperatures were high and the humidity levels even higher when the firefighters at Engine 3 at the Royal Avenue station were dispatched to the gorge for what was described as a first aid call. Firefighters Jason Zona, Tom Tedesco, Brian McCormick and Captain John Asklar answered the bell.

“When we got there, we had to look for the victim, it was getting dark and it was hard to find him,” Asklar recalled. “Then when we did get to him, (the call) had come in as a head laceration and he was on the shoreline with a fractured skull.”

Janssen, 35, from Burlington, Ont., had been knocked from his Jet Ski when a friend, trying to rescue him from where he was grounded, ran into him on his own Jet Ski. He ended up on the shoreline between Devil’s Hole and the Whirlpool State Park.

Firefighters from Engine 4 and Truck 10, at the 10th Street station, were called into to assist in the rescue and the process of carrying Janssen, in a rescue basket, out of the gorge began.

“His breathing was very uneven and we weren’t sure he was going to make it,” Asklar said. “But we just kept climbing.”

Because of the heat and humidity, the firefighters took turns carrying the basket up the side of the gorge using the Vanderbilt steps. In all, more than 25 firefighters and police over an hour to carry Janssen from the gorge and get him on to Mercy Flight for a trip to ECMC.

He remained hospitalized until just before Christmas. Now, Janssen says, he’s doing much better.

“Other than being tired a lot, I feel pretty good,” Janssen said. “I’m doing lots of physical therapy.”

Janssen’s girlfriend, Olga Borucz, said Mike had been looking forward to the opportunity to meet the Falls firefighters.

“It’s nice to be here,” she said. “It’s kind of closure. It was an amazing rescue to say the least. We kept praying and thanking these guys. They are dedicated, that’s for sure.”

The warm feelings didn’t go unappreciated.

“You feel fantastic to see (Mike) like this,” Asklar said. “And it’s nice to be thanked.”