OH Task Force 1 Provides Closure at Surfside (FL) Condo Collapse

Tim Carlin

The Columbus Dispatch

(MCT)

For members of the Ohio Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue Team, assisting local agencies at the Surfside Condominium collapse rescue and recovery operation in Miami was a unique type of tragedy.

The team is usually deployed immediately after a catastrophe, and most of those calamity level events are weather-induced.

But this time, the task force was responding to a building collapse – one that members said harkened back to September 11-level devastation – and was not deployed until about a week after the initial Surfside collapse.

Task force members returned home from Miami on Thursday, and reflected on the stressful work they do and the personal reward it can bring.

Helping with body recovery of victims at Surfside

Upon the task force’s arrival in Miami, the search and rescue effort at Surfside had already shifted to one focusing on the recovery of victims who were presumed dead. But this did not change the sense of urgency among task force members from around Ohio who were called to service.

“It’s still very important to provide closure,” said Dr. Daniel Bachmann, an emergency medicine physician at the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center and a medical team manager for Task Force 1. “That service to the community is probably the greatest reward that we have.”

More: Comfort dogs brought to Surfside collapse site to support first responders and mourners

The 46-year old Powell resident had experience working on catastrophe relief efforts as a former Navy physician. He said that the size and magnitude of the damage done by the condominium’s collapse was surpassed only by the damage done by the falling of the World Trade Center.

“It was overwhelming at times,” Bachmann said of his recent experience at Surfside, because of the knowledge of the tragedy at hand and victims involved.

But he added that working through the tragedy of the collapse is what Task Force 1 prepares to handle.

“I would also say it’s exactly what we trained for,” he said.

Delivering closure to families of condo-collapse victims

Tim Wyckoff, a firefighter with the Columbus Division of Fire, joined the Task Force in 2007. Working on the rescue and recovery effort at Surfside, Wyckoff said, was the first time he and other members of the task force who joined after 9/11 had seen a building collapse of this magnitude.

And while the work is both physically demanding and mentally draining, Wyckoff said there is a payoff in the end.

“The reward is obviously the work itself,” he said. “The opportunity to go to Surfside, or really anywhere, and either potentially make rescues or deliver closure to those families.”

“That’s the purpose of the team,” Wyckoff added.

More: Columbus police partnering with ATF, federal prosecutors to stop gun-violence crimes

Jack Reall, a retired firefighter from the Columbus Division of Fire who has worked on the task force since 1997, said he views his service as “paying it forward.”

One day, Reall said, his community may need the same help to pick up the pieces of devastation.

Bachmann also pointed to community service as one of his motivating forces.

“That service to the community is probably the greatest reward that we have,” Bachmann said.

And while working for Ohio Task Force 1 is full of reward, it is also not without sacrifice.

Members of the task force work in high pressure, tragic scenarios. There is often an emotional weight carried by the team.

“It does catch up with you at some point,” Bachmann said. He added that there can be different triggers at different points in time for different people. But no matter what, “it has, or will, catch up with all of us.”

Still, through it all, Bachmann said, task force members are grateful to serve both their state and country.

“It’s really an honor for us to be able to do this work,” Bachmann said, “and to represent the citizens of Ohio.”

tcarlin@dispatch.com

@timcarlin_

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