St. Petersburg firefighter shares first-hand account of rescue effort in Surfside


SURFSIDE, Fla. (WFLA) — As the days and hours go by, family members of the missing in Surfside grow more anxious.

They are waiting on any word of their loved ones and wondering why more victims have not been recovered. They’re also wondering why no live survivors have been found since the initial moments after the collapse.

John Blinkey is a firefighter and paramedic with St. Petersburg Fire Rescue and a highly trained Urban Rescue Expert. Blinkey is part of Task Force 3, which is now assigned to the recovery effort in Surfside.

Blinkey is a Squad Boss with Task Force 3 and arrived early Saturday to assist in the recovery effort. He and his team are working 12-hour shifts from midnight to noon on the pile, digging foot-by-foot, layer-through-layer through a mountain of debris from the collapsed building.

“Once we are up there, we’re pretty much slowly, methodically removing floor after floor and wall after wall,” Blinkey said.

There is heavy machinery available, but much of the work is being done by hand with the hope of not disturbing the pile with major movement, just in case there are voids where survivors still exist.

“We work with the crane operators, and we start chiseling away at the concrete, and then we end up cutting the rebar, along with capturing some of that with the cranes that we use,” Blinkey said.

It’s difficult to visualize just what the debris pile looks like up close for anyone who hasn’t been there.
Blinkey said it’s not what some people might expect.

“You expect for a building collapses,” he said. “That’s a residential building, to see couches and beds and all that stuff, but for the longest time, it’s just rocks, piles of pebbles, and metal.”

As they dig through the rubble, crews are looking for signs of life, but also looking for personal items that can be preserved.

“I found something earlier today was a night stand, which was also, night stand, the bed and you figure out the geographical location where everything is,” Blinkey said. “The only thing I was thinking about is, I thought maybe this will give them some hope and happiness that they have that of their loved ones.”

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