HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. - A specialized team of Tampa Bay area firefighters returned home Tuesday from a dangerous search and rescue mission through flood-ravaged Texas.
Dozens of family members cheered and cried as their loved ones pulled into the Hillsborough County Public Safety Operations Complex.
"I really, really love him and I miss him, miss him," said 7-year-old Aiden Bruckler.
Aiden missed his dad, but understands the mission helped save lives. "He's rescuing people from floods, the hurricane, and all kinds of stuff."
A team of 25 local firefighters, known as USAR Task Force 3, returned from a 10-day deployment providing 900 swift water rescues in the greater Beaumont, Texas area.
USAR Task Force 3 is a state urban search and rescue team comprised of 3 departments and which consist of Hillsborough Fire Rescue, Tampa Fire Rescue and St. Petersburg Fire Rescue. Task Force 3 specializes in structural collapse, swift water rescue, trench rescue and hazardous materials. The team includes firefighters, paramedics, structural engineers, doctors, search and rescue K9s, and other highly-trained specialists.
"So many people lost so much that it's nice to come home to a family that has everything,
for now," said Capt. Ryan Bradford, with Tampa Fire Rescue. "It was an eye-opening experience for all of us."
The happy reunions may be cut short because many team members are now on standby. They could be called back into action depending on the outcome of Hurricane Irma.
"We got 48 hours to figure out what we're going to do and get them safe and then turn around and
head back," said John Blinkey, with St. Petersburg Fire Rescue.
Families know the homecomings only last so long, with Hurricane Harvey behind them and Irma churning toward the Florida coast.
“It’s like Texas was the forerunner for what’s coming here in Florida and this is in his own backyard," said John Blinkey's mother, Debbie. "Taking the preparations to make sure his family is safe and out of town and then of course he’ll have to stay behind and do what he does best and that’s save other people."