By Kevin Deutsch
A team of Coral Springs first responders is “going piece by piece” through the rubble of the Surfside building collapse, as well as helping fellow frontline workers cope with mental health challenges amid a historic rescue effort, city officials said Friday.
Three rescue experts with the Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department are among those sifting through mangled tons of debris, searching for survivors and victims around the clock as members of the state’s elite, FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Teams (USAR).
Five other specially-trained firefighters and city staffers are deployed to Surfside, along with a city-contracted clinician response team and fire department chaplain.
A key contribution to the effort – in addition to search and rescue work – is helping fellow first responders care for their mental health, said city spokesperson Lynne Martzall. That work is being done by a team of certified peer support counselors specially trained to handle trauma.
“Knowing that your job is so important to the families, performing search and recovery…it takes a toll” on the search and rescue crews in Surfside, Martzall said.
About 200 first responders are sifting through the rubble of the 12-story Champlain Towers South, which partially collapsed on June 24.
At least 20 people have been confirmed dead, while 128 others remain missing.
Among the Coral Springs first responders in Surfside: Fire Department Battalion Chief Christopher Bator, who is overseeing the mental health care of all USAR rescuers; Fire Department Chief Michael McNally; City Manager Frank Babinec, the city’s former fire chief and a certified peer support counselor; and Fire Department Chaplain Father Ronald Perkins.
Martzall said the city was uniquely positioned to help in Surfside because of its own behavioral health program for firefighters—care that proved vital following the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and has since expanded to civilian workers.
“This might be in Surfside, we might be all the way in Coral Springs, but when it comes to tragedies like this, we are always willing to step up,” Martzall said.
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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