First Responders Reflect on Lessons Learned from Surfside

First responders and specialized units rushed to the Champlain Towers South within hours after the building collapsed on June 24, 2021. 

“To get two full-sized urban search and rescue teams there within the first 24 hours is unheard of,” said Dave Downey, the former Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief, who now works with the Florida State Fire Marshal.

Downey, who was in the command post at Surfside, said being able to communicate effectively with all the different response teams was key as well as getting rescuers the tools they needed.  

“…As a tool broke, we just moved it off and moved a new tool in and they repaired the tool that was broken. There was no interruption. We had never done that.”

In addition, they learned that heavy cranes need to arrive almost as quickly as the search teams. 

“You can’t work a collapse rescue without cranes, without excavators and making sure that you know where these are and how to get them into your area,” Downey said.  

The rescue teams also used drones. 

“We were able to fly a drone into the underground parking garage that was completely pancaked and to be able to get around vehicles and do as close to a search as we could for any victims,” Downey said.  

The team members who worked the site told NBC 6 that the technology the Israelis brought to the scene made a difference.  

 “Almost a reenactment of the building, how it fell, where people could possibly be in the rubble,” said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Capt. Erik Sada. “It was kind of a new way of searching and finding people we have not had in the past.”

Downey added, “They were able to map that out and help us line up stairwells, rooms, apartments, and they were really spot on.” 

When asked what’s the ultimate takeaway, Downey said, “Through experience, through training you always get stronger … This type of thing, as tragic as they are, they make us stronger for the next time.”