LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — As search efforts turned from rescue to recovery at the site of the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida, first responders held a moment of silence for the victims and their families.
"It's a tough emotional moment when you recognize and reconcile the tremendous loss for the families and the community," Orange County Fire Authority Battalion Chief Kevin Fetterman said.
Fetterman is part of the National Urban Search and Rescue Team that arrived in Florida June 28. During the effort, he has worked as the planning section chief for a team of 26 and helps facilitate and coordinate the operation.
He said he has responded to many disasters over the years, but the condo collapse rescue and recovery effort was highly complex and especially challenging.
"We were dealing with a building collapse with, you know, over 100 people missing," he said. "Then you throw in the ramifications of COVID and what that means, add a hurricane onto the top of that."
But, despite the challenges, he said the focus of everyone there did not change.
"You want to do everything you can and work every hour that you can and move every piece of concrete and do whatever's possible to provide either rescue or closure," he said.
Fetterman said his team made sure the people on the pile — who worked upwards of 21 hours per day — were supported logistically, physically and emotionally.
"We have mental health professionals on scene providing stress debriefing," he said. "We put all of our personnel through that either on a cycle basis or whenever they need it."
And though the focus has now shifted to recovery, Fetterman said the first responders remained just as committed to the task at hand.
"They're absolutely focused on providing rescue early on and then closure for the families now," he said.
Fetterman said he was humbled to be a part of the tremendous effort.
"Of all the incidents I've been on, this one absolutely stands out, the unity of effort, from the local, state and federal level has been tremendous," he said. "It's better than I've ever seen in over 10 years and numerous disasters that I've been with the team. The level of effort here has been phenomenal."
As of Thursday evening, the death toll had grown to 64.
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