Heritage Moments: The hero policeman of Blizzard of '77

Dec 7, 2015

The Blizzard of 1977 took 31 lives in Western New York and the Niagara Peninsula, the most vicious, relentless and paralyzing storm in the living memory of a place often battered by brutal winter weather.


The Blizzard of ’77 blasted the region from Friday, Jan. 28 to Tuesday, Feb. 1, stranding people in cars, homes or wherever they happened to be when the howling winds and blinding snows struck. But for all the hardship and deprivation the storm inflicted, there emerged stories of heroism, selflessness and neighbors helping neighbors.

One such story is that of Patrolman Carl O. Reese of the Buffalo Police Department. During the height of the blizzard he trudged through the wind, snow and subzero cold, on foot, to bring life-saving medications to some of the roughly 220 people taking refuge at Chef’s Restaurant on Seneca Street.

Louis Billittier, who owned Chef’s, remembered Reese shuttling several times between the restaurant and the old Emergency Hospital a few blocks away to bring heart medication, insulin and other medical aid.* Each trip was highly dangerous; it was often impossible to see more than a few feet ahead.

Reese was experiencing chest pains, but he would not stop. Again he ventured out of the restaurant, this time to Route 5 and the Skyway a mile away, where he dug out motorists stuck in their cars. After working 25 straight hours in unbearable conditions to aid and rescue his fellow citizens, he finally returned home, where he collapsed and died of a heart attack on Feb. 1. He was 38.

Reese “helped a lot of people” in that terrible blizzard, Billittier said. “He was a great policeman.”

* Billittier’s account of Reese’s actions appears in Erno T. Rossi’s comprehensive oral history of the storm, “White Death: The Blizzard of ’77.”

Cast (in order of appearance)
Patrolman Carl Reese: David Marciniak
Restaurateur Louis Billittier: Richard Hummert
Narrator: Susan Banks

Sound recording: Micheal Peters and Connor De Junco (WBNY, Buffalo State)
Sound editing: Micheal Peters
Post-production: Kim Ferullo (Chameleon Communications, 510 Franklin St., Buffalo)

Piano theme: Excerpt from “Buffalo City Guards Parade March,” by Francis Johnson (1839), performed by Aaron Dai

Produced by the Niagara Frontier Heritage Project
Written by Jeff Z. Klein
Assistant producer: Karl-Eric Reif

Casting: Darleen Pickering Hummert (Pickering Hummert Casting, 234 Carmel Rd., Buffalo)
Jesse Tiebor (Casting Hall Productions, Buffalo State Theater Dept., 2014-15 academic year)

Special thanks to:
Brian McDermott, WBNY general manager, 2014-15 academic year
Connor De Junco, WBNY production director, 2014-15 academic year
Anthony Chase, assistant dean, School of Arts and Humanities, Buffalo State
Ronald Smith, professor, and Thomas McCray, assistant professor, Buffalo State Communication Dept.  

Webpage written by Jeff Z. Klein