(WFLA) — Friday will mark the one year anniversary of the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida.
The 12-story beachfront condominium fell in the middle of the night, killing 98 people. Only 4 survivors were pulled from the rubble.
Just hours after the building went down, a specially trained team made up of first responders from Tampa, Hillsborough County and St. Petersburg went to Surfside to help with the rescue and recovery effort. They are called “Task Force 3.”
“We had our people on the pile 24 hours a day. We split ’em in half, 12 hour shifts and they were working right alongside the Miami/Dade, FEMA Task Force, and the city of Miami FEMA Task Force, hand in hand, you couldn’t tell the difference,” said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones.
Among the 72 people on the ground as part of Task Force 3 was Captain Dusty Mascaro.
“Even at a mile, you could smell the smells that the building was giving off, the construction and all of the other things that you can imagine,” Mascaro said.
The group trains for heavy rescue, but little could have prepared them for this experience.
“Part of the building was still standing, so you didn’t get the full scope of the job you were tasked to do until you kind of made the corner and saw the building on the ground and the multiple story high rubble pile,” Mascaro said. “So, that was the biggest gulp moment for me because you start working in your head, how in the world are we going to start to dismantle this. You know you’re there for a handful of days and none of them are going to be nice.”
The 12 stories of the building collapsed on top of one another in what is known as a pancake effect. Members of Task Force 3 said this is the most difficult situation to find survivors, but even knowing this, they pressed on with the work.
“I can’t tell anybody for certain what’s in the middle of that pile, so until they tell us to stop, we’re going to pretend that we are going to get somebody,” Mascaro said. “We are going to try as hard as we can and we are going to do everything in our capability to get somebody that’s in there. If it was my family in that building, I would want to see guys working as hard as all of those guys were on the pile.”
Grants from the state in the wake of Surfside will help pay for more training and the replacement of equipment used up in the recovery process, but as a result of the lessons learned the team will take mental health councilors with them if this type of event happens again.
“They lose sleep over it, they have anxiety issues over it. So, we’re trying to develop programs that help our members deal with those types of things and get ’em through it,” said Chief Jose Prado.
Thursday, a judge approved a one-billion-dollar settlement agreement for survivors and victims families.