Search and rescue in Surfside taking toll on first responders’ mental health

Reporter: Nicole Gabe Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
surfside service animals
Credit: WINK News

The first responders on the ground in Surfside are having to deal with the mental and emotional impacts of the building collapse, in addition to the physical impacts.

Mental anguish comes with the territory but there are strategies to help them overcome it.

The mountain of rubble that used to be Champlain Towers South could contain people’s missing loved ones. And, on top of that mountain, first responders have been searching for any signs of life.

Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 6 is based in Southwest Florida and are among the first responders who went to Surfside to assist in the search and rescue mission.

Andrew Schmidt is with Task Force 6 feels a responsibility to the families of those who are unaccounted for, to those who are hoping and praying for miracles. But, he knows this grim work is tough on his teammates.

“They get to a scene and what they want to do is they want to help as quickly as possible,” Schmidt said.

Task Force Six is working 12-hour shifts. This is day six and 11 people are dead, 150 are still unaccounted for.

Paul Simeone is the vice president of mental and behavioral health at Lee Health.

“They’re going to have a whole series of, you know, you know, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, physical problems associated with this, because these are adjustment reactions to a really abnormal event,” Simeone said.

On-site, mental health experts bring dogs. They serve as emotional support animals and while they do help, nothing can eras the sense of loss, shock, depression and anxiety many first responders are feeling.

“If those symptoms don’t resolve over some reasonable period of time, several weeks to several months, then you really need to move to the next phase of treatment,” said Simeone. “Where people may be having deepening a deepening episode of depression, that oftentimes has anxiety associated with it.”

These people are risking their lives and their mental health to help others.

Mental health experts recommend that first responders ask for help when they go through their critical incident stress debriefings. There a professional can identify people who aren’t handling what they experienced well and can get involved right away.

Copyright ©2023 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.