In the wake of the terrible building collapse in Surfside on June 24, the Hillsborough County Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 3 (USAR-TF3) crews started to prepare for mobilization.
Unknown to most of the community, the team, made up of 72 members from Tampa and St. Petersburg Fire Rescue along with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, are a group of specially trained fire rescue staff that must meet stringent training, promotion and skill level to be selected for a special ops task force. The purpose of the team is to be ready—within three hours of a call from the governor—to activate and deploy and to respond to any disasters within the state and even outside the state of Florida.
Special Operations Captain Tony Daugherty has been a member of the task force for his entire 20-year fire department career and is eager to help in Surfside if needed.
“We can be ready within three hours of receiving word from the governor that our task force is needed,” he said. “When we do simulations here at the special operations center, we use props, practice with real people as victims, we use smoke to try to simulate what a real building emergency would be.”
The practice and training facility, located at the special operations headquarters on Columbus Dr., is made up of multiple shipping containers with floors, walls, tunnels, stairs and multiple stories.
“In Sunrise, what we are seeing is what we call a pancake collapse where the floors stack on top of each other as they fall,” added Daugherty. “This is going to be a very slow, very arduous task and our team is on standby to assist if needed.”
Within the state of Florida, there are seven task forces setup with multiple agencies making up each task force. In the Miami area, Task Force 1 and Task Force 2 are nearby, and then Tampa/Hillsborough makes up Task Force 3.
“Our typical calls would be storm-related, and we have sent teams as far away as Biloxi and we sent a water rescue unit to Texas,” said Daugherty.
TF3 trains for emergency scenarios, including structural collapse, and uses all the skills and technology at their disposal to rescue citizens as a first priority. In addition, the team provides rescue/recovery, shoring operations, K9 teams and debris clearing to get to victims.
All necessary equipment, such as special vibration and sound detectors, cameras, concrete saws and drilling equipment, are kept at the ready 24/7. In fact, said Daugherty, when mobilized, the team brings enough water, food, shelter, equipment and even oxygen to be self-sustained for 72 hours.
“We don’t want to put a burden on the county we are trying to help in, so we come prepared,” Daughtery added, saying he can’t remember another structural collapse this significant.
As of press time, the team was on standby, awaiting activation. For more information about the team, visit hcflgov.net/fire.