GFR personnel return from Surfside deployment

The eight Gainesville Fire Rescue (GFR) Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) specialists who deployed to Surfside last week returned safely on Sunday, GFR reported.

The team traveled to Surfside on June 27 to aid search, rescue and recovery efforts at the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condominiums, where 27 people have been found dead and 118 remain missing.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our responders that went to Surfside to help our neighbors and represented the City of Gainesville so well,” GFR Chief Joe Dixon said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to the families that have lost so much in this tragedy.”

Workers pick through ruins of the condominium collapse in Surfside

GFR’s squad-leader for the deployment, Lt. Bubba Ennis, said the teams worked “exceptionally long hours [12 hours on and 12 hours off], with briefings before and debriefings after, in hot and wet conditions.” 

The eight GFR specialists went as part of Florida’s USAR Task Force-8, which is funded through grants and local fire departments. 

“We (GFR) are very grateful to our citizens, City Commission, City Management, and our Fire Chief, Joe Dixon, who support GFR’s participation in the Task-Force,” Shawn Hillhouse, GFR’s interim deputy fire chief, said in a written statement. “Their support and our membership in TF-8 is what gives GFR the expertise to provide these specialty services to our citizens on a daily basis and allows us to help our neighbors locally, statewide, and internationally when they are in need.”

Members of USAR Task Force-8 pay respects at Surfside memorial

Task Force-8 is made up of technical rescue specialists from Gainesville Fire Rescue, Marion County Fire Rescue and Ocala Fire Rescue. 

Hillhouse said the eight responders are going through 96 hours of rehabilitation to reset gear, reintegrate with their families, and destress before going back to their regular jobs.

On Sunday night crews demolished the rest of the Champagne Towers South in order to minimize risk ahead of Tropical Storm Elsa and to open up new areas for search and recovery efforts.

After the work resumed Monday morning, crews discovered three more bodies to increase the death toll to 27. 

GFR's eight Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) specialists
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