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GFR’s Urban Search & Rescue Task Force members return from Surfside

Press release from Gainesville Fire Rescue

Gainesville Fire Rescue’s (GFR) eight Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) specialists returned from Surfside Florida yesterday at 8 p.m. The team has been in South Florida since noon on the 27th of June. Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force-8 (FLUSARTF-8) deployed to Surfside to assist in search, rescue, and recovery efforts for the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominiums, where they joined other Florida Task Forces on the ground who had already been working in Surfside. 

Florida’s USAR Task Forces are predominantly funded through Regional Domestic Security Task Force (RDSTF) grant funding that provides for initial funding of equipment purchases, equipment sustainment funding, and ongoing training. Additional training requirements and costs are borne by member departments that allow the individual departments to serve their areas as Light Technical Rescue Teams (LTRT). Both Florida’s USAR Task Forces and LTRTs may be deployed as part of Florida’s State Emergency Response Plan (SERP). When deployed via the SERP, the State reimburses the local jurisdiction for the cost of the employee, the cost of their absence, and for the use of State-requested equipment. GFR’s Interim Deputy Fire Chief, Shawn Hillhouse, said, “We (GFR) are very grateful to our citizens, City Commission, City Management, and our Fire Chief, Joe Dixon, who support GFR’s participation in the Task Force. Their support and our membership in TF-8 is what gives GFR the expertise to provide these specialty services to our citizens on a daily basis and allows us to help our neighbors locally, Statewide, and internationally when they are in need.” 

FLUSARTF-8 is composed of technical rescue specialists from Gainesville Fire Rescue, Marion County Fire Rescue, and Ocala Fire Rescue. To be considered for the team, members of these departments must be certified as both State firefighter-II and EMTs, and they must complete operations and technician level training in high-angle and low-angle rescue, confined space rescue, structural collapse rescue, trench rescue, and vehicle and machinery rescue. Once on the Task Force, members complete additional training to fill vital positions on the team such as task force leader, logistics officer, medical specialist, and search specialist.   

GFR’s squad leader for the deployment, Lt. Bubba Ennis, said the teams were working “exceptionally long hours (12 hours on and 12 hours off) with briefings before and debriefings after, in hot and wet conditions.” The workers from GFR were always hopeful of a rescue but also felt the importance of bringing closure to the families most affected by the tragedy. GFR’s Fire Chief, Joe Dixon, said, “I couldn’t be more proud of our responders that went to Surfside to help our neighbors and represented the City of Gainesville so well! Our hearts go out to the families that have lost so much in this tragedy.” 

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Chief Hillhouse said the eight responders will begin 96 hours of rehabilitation to reset their gear, reintegrate with their families, and de-stress before going back to their normal emergency response jobs. To emphasize the importance of the State Task Forces and LTRTs, Chief Hillhouse said Gainesville Fire Rescue has already been contacted about their status to respond regionally in the wake of Tropical Storm Elsa.

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