Southwest Florida Search and Rescue Team Returns From Weekly Surfside

Amid an echo of cheering on Saturday, Firefighter Gregg Abenanti and 35 other members of the Southwest Florida Urban Search and Rescue Team – Task Force 6 got out of their vehicles after a difficult week and moving.

Abenanti has searched for his wife, Jennifer. When he found her, Jennifer gave him a hug and told him how much she missed him as he spent the week on a search and rescue mission for those missing in the collapse of a condominium last week in Surfside.

The last:“Dramatic Decision”: Demolition of remaining condo structure in Florida scheduled within 36 hours; collapse the death toll rises to 24

After Jennifer, it was Greg’s 7-year-old Great Dane Lacey to give a hug.

The return of USAR-TF6 to Bonita Springs Fire Station 24, 27701 Bonita Grande Drive, was edifying for the team members who worked in 12-hour shifts to locate survivors.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Gregory DeWitt, Bonita Springs fire chief and task force leader. “It’s great to be at home, but there is still a lot of work to be done. There are still people who need closure.

As of Saturday, first responders have recovered 24 people who died from the early morning June 24 collapse of the Champlain South Towers. More than 120 people are still missing. Rescue teams from across the country and around the world are fighting to locate survivors and bodies in the rubble of the 12-story building.

Greg Abenanti, a member of the Southwest Florida Urban Search and Rescue Team, is greeted by his dog, Lacy and wife Jennifer Abenanti, on Saturday, July 3, 2021, at Fire Station 24 in Bonita Springs.  Greg and 36 members of the search and rescue team worked side by side with first responders at the Champlain Towers South condominium site in Surfside.

USAR-TF6 is a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary search and rescue task force based in Southwest Florida. The team of over 90 members is made up of civilian volunteers, firefighters, paramedics and specialists from more than 10 local emergency agencies.

Team members are expertly trained in all technical rescue disciplines, making them capable of responding to a variety of incidents including structural collapse rescue, confined space rescue, Trench Rescue, Large Animal Rescue, Wide Area Search, Low / High Angle Rescue and Fast Water Rescue.

The team’s previous service was highlighted by work during Hurricanes Dorian, Irma, Matthew and Charley. This could continue if Tropical Storm Elsa affects the region early next week.

The condominium collapse was the first non-disaster the task force collaborated on. As the third search and rescue team at the site where around 450 workers continued the mission, USAR-TF6 program manager Shane Sibert said the transition was “simple.”

“At first it was overwhelming, but we went into combat mode and made it our own,” Sibert said. “This team makes it easy for me. I couldn’t be prouder of them.

The USAR working group recently participated in a training session early last month which has been of tremendous benefit to them over the past week. During the final week of demolition of the 47-year-old Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Trail, the team participated in several rubble search and rescue scenarios.

Ready to help :Members of Southwest Florida Search and Rescue Task Force 6 assist in Surfside, Fla. At the site of the collapse

Related:Southwest Floridians offer help and prayers following Miami area building collapse

DeWitt described the difficulties of the site which saw six stories of the South Champlain Towers now rest below grade. Storms in the area as well as fires that broke out at the site also hampered search and rescue.

“We just wanted to do good for the families,” DeWitt said, adding that some family members have called out the names of their loved ones to team members in the hope that they can be located.

Southwest Florida Urban Search and Rescue members are greeted home by family and friends on Saturday, July 3, 2021, at Bonita Springs Fire Station 24.

With team member support systems across the state, DeWitt argued that his team should call or FaceTime their families within an hour of starting their 12-hour shift at the site each day. .

Part of the team’s return is due to Elsa’s projected path to southwest Florida.

It was the return of an appropriate hero on Saturday as the convoy of trucks and vans made their way to Station 24 as a large American flag hung from the ladder trucks of the San Carlos Park Fire Departments and Bonita Springs. Family members lined the parking lot with signs and balloons.

“We know we are appreciated,” DeWitt said. “But that just shows it.”

The threat of the tropical storm over South Florida prompted the call on Saturday for the demolition of the vertical portion of the Champlain Towers South building within days.

“This will protect our search and rescue teams. We don’t know when it might fall, ”Governor Ron DeSantis said at a press conference on Saturday. “With these gusts, it would create a real serious danger.”

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