SW FL’s Surfside First Responders Get Additional State Funding

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Southwest Florida first responders will soon receive their $10 million tranche to protect Urban Search & Rescue Task Force 6, one of eight statewide teams responding to the collapse of the Surfside condominium last summer.

Of this amount, $5.8 million will help provide tractors, trailers, trucks, forklifts and utility vehicles to support search and rescue missions that save lives.

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An additional $3.9 million will be split among the eight urban search and rescue task forces, as well as 40 light technical rescue teams, all of which respond to statewide emergencies.

“Most of our equipment is 10 to 15 years old, and it just needs replacing, especially the vehicles,” said Shane Sibert, program manager of Urban Search and Rescue in Southwest Florida.

When the Champlain Towers building collapsed in Surfside on June 24, Sibert said Task Force 6 needed to get U Haul trucks to take the necessary equipment with them.

Workers search the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Florida on July 11, 2021. MEGHAN McCARTHY/Palm Beach Post

Task Force 6 was the third unit on site after Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami, respectively.

The state’s eight urban search and rescue teams worked together in 12-hour shifts as they searched for survivors. Ninety-eight people died as a result of the collapse.

“In Surfside’s case, it was nighttime and we were out the next morning,” Sibert said. “So with that money we would have our own trucks, we would be self-sufficient and I wouldn’t have to wait for an outside supplier or contractor.”

More than 40 first responders from 12 Lee and Collier agencies deployed to Surfside. They included firefighters, paramedics, specialists and civilian volunteers.

“We have a term we use, ‘wheels up,'” Sibert said. “It’s going to get us rolling a lot faster. We could almost cut that timeframe in half.”

Other benefits the funds will bring include that they won’t have to stop as much to refuel vehicles, which will improve their response time, Sibert said.

“If one vehicle stops, we all stop,” Sibert said. “It’s really delayed our response. With new vehicles, it’s definitely going to double.”

The last time Task Force 6 received funding of this magnitude was around 2005 or 2006 in response to their service during 9/11 recovery efforts, Sibert said.

One of the member teams, North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District, contributes to Task Force 6 with 14 members, spokeswoman Heather Mazurkiewicz said.

“Being a member of teams like this impacts us locally,” Mazurkiewicz said. “It also means that as members of the US&R team, we have the availability to call on additional resources that are located throughout the state of Florida.”

North Collier Fire is the only member of Task Force 6 from Collier County.

Members of Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 6 received Surfside Memorial Challenge coins during a ceremony at San Carlos Park Fire Rescue Station #53 on Monday, February 28, 2022. The event was also held to push $10 million in the state budget for training and equipping urban search and rescue teams.  The event honored those who participated in search and rescue efforts when the Champlain Towers collapsed last year.

“It’s not necessarily additional training that’s put in place by the district itself,” Mazurkiewicz said. “It’s additional training that is available through entities like Urban Search & Rescue, and now there will be more opportunities for more training and better equipment.”

The exact amount of funding each urban search and rescue team will receive is determined by the type and size of the task force, said Devin Galetta, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Financial Services.

Task Force 6 is over 90 strong and responds statewide and nationwide to an array of tragedies, including building collapses and hurricanes. They deployed 42 members when Surfside collapsed.

Over the past five years, members have responded to hurricanes like Irma, Dorian and Matthew.

Rescuers continue to search through the rubble of the Champlain Towers south condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., Tuesday, June 29, 2021.

When the Champlain Towers building collapsed, members of Task Force 6 were preparing for Tropical Storm Elsa.

After Surfside’s collapse, state fire marshal and chief financial officer Jimmy Patronis pleaded for the $10 million in funds to support equipment and training costs as part of his scale tour. of the “Year of the US&R” state.

Urban search and rescue

The Federal Emergency Management Agency created the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System in 1989 to help respond to nationwide emergencies. Florida has eight units statewide and responds to emergencies such as building collapses and hurricanes. Urban search and rescue Task Group 6 represents Collier and Lee counties:

  • North Collier Fire and Rescue Control District
  • Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue
  • Estero Fire Rescue
  • San Carlos Park Fire and Rescue Services District
  • South Trail Fire and Rescue District
  • Iona McGregor Fire Department
  • Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District
  • Fort Myers Fire Department
  • Cape Coral Fire Department
  • Tice Fire Department
  • Fort Myers Shores Fire Department
  • Lee County Public Safety

Tomas Rodriguez is a Breaking/Live News reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. You can reach Tomas at TRodriguez@gannett.com or 772-333-5501. Follow him on Twitter @TomasFRoBeltran.

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