North Collier Fire Rescue speaks about experience at Surfside

Reporter: Zach Oliveri
Published: Updated:

For Southwest Florida first responders who traveled to Surfside to help in the search efforts, it’s hard to comprehend that the site has been mostly cleared of debris as of Wednesday.

All that remains is the outline of the Champlain Towers South. Ninety-seven bodies have been recovered and 22 million pounds of debris cleared.

“I can say honestly it was tons of work to get to where they are today. Without a doubt,” said Capt. Nick Stolts with the North Collier Fire Rescue District.

When Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 6 got to Surfside, they immediately hit the pile, hoping to find survivors. They were able to recover the remains of about 20 people.

The work was slow, methodical and dangerous.

“Whether it was the building over top of our heads the whole time. To the constant shifting below our feet. The first two days we worked with fire burning directly below us,” Stolts said.

But once the decision was made to bring the rest of the building down and then shift from search and rescue to search and recovery, the pace changed.

“To see the work they did, it’s impressive, you know how much it took to get to that point. A lot of that work was done by hand tools,” said Erik Espineta, also with USAR Task Force 6.

Ninety-six people have been identified.

Every member of the team hopes they never have to respond to another tragedy like the one in Surfside, but if the call comes?

“I’d go tomorrow, no questions asked,” Stolts said. “I’d go again.”

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