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Pine Island resident assisting in Surfside collapse

By Staff | Jun 25, 2021

Pine Islander Joe Hernandez, of Urban Search and Rescue responded to the call early Thursday morning from Miami, just after the Champlain Tower condo began to collapse.

The death toll has reached four as the number of those unaccounted for continues to climb, he says, in part due to people not having been home when the collapse took place.

“They are trying to breach the parking garage, where they believe they may find survivors, who could have been trapped when all of the concrete came down.”

Hernandez, who was at Ground Zero during the cleanup from 9-1-1, said although the disaster was confined to one building, the view is, indeed, familiar. Having just finished teaching a class for medics in Ocala in May, Hernandez, who calls himself a retiree, continues to respond when called.

“I’m still contracted by the government to provide training for individuals across the country. It’s about training up the new generation, making sure they’re willing to go and do the same thing as the generation before,” Hernandez said.

After 11 hours, the incident was declared a federal disaster, enabling the state to obtain assets as well as assistance from the government, Hernandez said. Although some may wonder why there are not more people on site, he says there is simply no room.

Hernandez, who was at Ground Zero during the cleanup from 9-1-1, said although the disaster was confined to one building, the view is, indeed, familiar. Having just finished teaching a class for medics in Ocala in May, Hernandez, who calls himself a retiree, continues to respond when called.

“I’m still contracted by the government to provide training for individuals across the country. It’s about training up the new generation, making sure they’re willing to go and do the same thing as the generation before,” Hernandez said.

“There’s not a lot of room, and there are many things to do,” Hernandez said. “You can only get under it so far, if the building has a secondary collapse… how close can you put your ladder trucks? How close can you put your personnel?”

They’ve now put up transits as they continue to watch the building closely. They will create a platform, acting as a temporary steel roof over the top of the rubble for protection from boulders coming down, he said. The sound of a boulder hitting the steel as you’re working, he confesses, can only be described as terrible. Despite the theories regarding the building’s collapse, Hernandez said experts in the field agree it was likely due to structural failure from a combination of work being done on the building, saltwater intrusions compromising the integrity of the building, and its age.

“You can scan the web and find anything and everything you want about that building,” said Hernandez. “There are high-value targets, maybe, in every building, the family of the First Lady of Paraguay is missing out of that building. It’s Miami Beach.”

Hernandez describes finding survivors after this kind of disaster as a harrowing duty. The first thing done is the placement of dogs on the pile of rubble. The dogs go by scent and they are not confused by the smell of a dead person versus a live person. The dogs also are trained not to be confused by the smell of something as innocuous as food. When the dog has found someone, the rescue personnel will burrow a three-inch round hole as close as possible to where the dog has sent an alert and place a 360-degree lighted camera with video and audio capabilities into the hole. They will then listen for a victim and try to make contact. That is when the victim becomes a patient, Hernandez said, because now they are able to do a medical assessment.

“We call it SLAM,” he says. “Search, Locate, Assess, Monitor.”

“This is the job for the next few days,” Hernandez said. “Before we turn rescue efforts into a recovery.”