HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — It’s nearly been one year since the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo collapsed. On Thursday, first responders from the Tampa Bay area reflected on that day and how they train to handle these tragedies.
The condo collapsed in the early morning hours of June 24, burying victims under tons of rubble. Rescuers spent weeks carefully and diligently digging through the pile. 98 people were killed.
“We were trained for it, but when you got there, and the sights and sounds and smells and the amount of people and the kind of organized chaos that was around, it was a little overwhelming,” said Dusty Mascaro.
Mascaro is part of Task Force 3, which is made up of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, Tampa Fire Rescue, and St. Pete Fire Rescue. Task Force 3 was deployed to the Surfside collapse.
“Once you kind of went behind the part of the building that was still standing and you saw the magnitude of that part of the building on the ground, that’s kind of when it hit you. That’s kind of when you knew that there was a lot of work that needed to be done,” said Mascaro.
Mascaro explained there were a lot of moving parts to the entire operation.
Dennis Jones, Fire Chief of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, said they split their team in half: 12 hours on, 12 hours off, working around the clock.
“We sent our team down immediately, 72 members,” said Jones. “We sent 72 people down, and it includes doctors, it includes engineers, K9 search, it includes all that, and as soon as they arrive, they begin setting up their tent city while one half of the team goes to the rubble pile.”
On Thursday, crews gave a closer look at some of their equipment and the processes they go through to handle situations like this, showing the amount of work that goes into these technical rescues.
“There’s always a ready team up. They’re ready to go. They know they’re on the roster,” said Jones. “If it happened today, we know who’s ready to go, and we send that team out within two hours.”
The County said the 72 members of Task Force 3 were deployed for seven days to the Surfside collapse.
“When you get back to your tent or when you come home, you squeeze the wife a little tighter. You spend a little extra time with the kid,” said Mascaro.