Families welcome home JFRD rescue team called to help in Surfside

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A nearly 80-person team of Jacksonville Fire and Rescue’s Urban Search and Rescue personnel returned Friday night from Surfside after nearly a week helping search for survivors.

News4Jax broached the idea of a homecoming for the firefighters with personnel at the JFRD, which welcomed the idea. Families gathered along Alden Road between St. Johns Bluff and the JFRD Training Academy, waving as a line of heavy duty vehicles drove by around 8:30 p.m.

In a tweet, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry called the sight “heartwarming.”

Adults and children cheered as they held posters and waved American flags.

Elizabeth Vandoren is in the explorer program for JFRD. She came to out support some of the people she admires most.

“It must be difficult to go out there and see what they saw,” she said.

The crew left last Sunday at 2 p.m., arrived in Surfside at 9 p.m. and began working at midnight. First responders were working 12 hours from midnight to noon every day.

Miami-Dade Lt. Obed Frometa, with Florida Task Force 1, who also serves as a chaplain, has said the mental toll this rescue mission has taken on the responders has been “enormous.”

Frometa said situations like the collapse bring, “a feeling of not only defeat, but it’s a feeling of loss. We are human, after all. We’re not robots. We’re not machines. We feel it.”

Counselors are available for the first responders that went down to Surfside, JFRD said. Seeing people’s things among the rubble has triggered strong emotions, especially children’s belongings. Some of the first responders found children’s toys, car seats and strollers in the rubble. Some have recovered bodies.

“They have seen some things and smelled some things that will never leave their mind ever again,” said JFRD Chief Keith Powers. “They continually wanted to help those people find closure and beyond hope to find somebody alive.”

Powers said the firefighters will get a 96 hour window of recovery to be with their families.

About the Authors:

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.