SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Capt. Sergio Curvelo has 23 years experience in fire and rescue with 14 years focusing specifically on search and rescue. He’s used to responding to emergency calls at a moment’s notice, but the call he received at 3 a.m. last Thursday is one he’ll never forget.
He was fast asleep when his phone started ringing; it was the assistant chief calling from Miami-Dade.
“He was like, ‘hey man we’ve got a serious problem down here. I need your dogs, are you available to come?’ I got in my truck, got the dog, got everything I needed, got my gear and all that and started making my way to Miami. I started going south on I-75 and then it dawned on me I didn’t even ask him where I am going,” Curvelo recounted.
Eventually, he got the address leading him to the collapsed condo building in Surfside.
“Of all the places I’ve been… I’ve been to Hurricane Harvey, I’ve been to a tornado event in Louisiana… This is by far the biggest tragedy I have ever seen,” said Curvelo.
The first responder spent years training with FEMA and other organizations in case of a structural collapse. However, he says the scene in Surfside is unlike anything he could have anticipated. He is still trying to wrap is head around how a 12-story building fell to form such a short pile of rubble.
“It is just mind-boggling still to me,” said the search and rescue expert.
Emotions were high as rescuers tirelessly continued searching for survivors. Capt. Curvelo says the pile of rubble is difficult for first responders to navigate. Dogs like his own K-9 Stryker have been an essential part of the ongoing rescue efforts.
“This dog here is able to work on the pile without me being on the pile. He is a force multiplier. He can literally search the area of 200 firefighters in minutes,” said Capt. Curvelo.
The rescuer tells 8 On Your Side he hasn’t been cleared by officials in south Florida to share specific details relating to the search. However, he is keeping a close eye on the progress from here at home. He remains on standby, ready to head south if and when he gets another call.
Curvelo and his wife launched their own search and rescue team in Sarasota County earlier this year. “I am taking what the taxpayers paid to train me at this level and giving it back now that I have time to do so. It is my passion. You call us, we don’t charge anybody anything. We do it for free,” said Capt. Curvelo.
The organization is called ‘Sarasota County Urban Search and Rescue Recovery K-9’. You can learn more about the team at sarasotacountyusar.org.