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First responders endure emotional toll of Surfside condo collapse: "It's heartbreaking"

Surfside search takes emotional toll on rescuers
Surfside search takes emotional toll on rescu... 02:07

Sifting through the rubble in search of victims of the Surfside condo collapse is dangerous work — but it's also taking an emotional toll on first responders. One of those responders is Scott Dean, a Miami Urban Search and Rescue team leader who has labored at the pile since day one. 

"It's heartbreaking," he told CBS News. "It's a terrible event and we're trying to cope with it and deal with it and get through with it." 

Search and rescue teams have worked 12-hour shifts for two weeks in rain, high winds, heat and humidity. At least 79 people have been confirmed dead, officials said Friday evening. More than 60 people are still missing. 

Among the rubble, Dean and other first responders are finding victims' personal belongings, which he said adds to the emotional toll. 

"We try to disassociate family and pictures and names to people because it's easier for us to cope with, unfortunately," he said. "But when you start doing that and you're seeing these pictures of people, it really is difficult. It hits home and, you know, you really start to think about it more than what you should."

Many first responders haven't had the time to process what they're experiencing, he said. "I don't think we are at that stage yet where people are really processing, because we really haven't had any down time. I think once that occurs and we leave this site, we might start seeing some of those [mental health] issues come in." 

"This is something that we will remember forever and we're going to keep coping and dealing with it for a long time," he added. 

Dean, who has worked disasters like the September 11 terror attacks, said the Surfside tragedy is unlike any he's experienced. 

"I think the most difficult was to find our firefighter's daughter," he said, referring to the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter who was pulled from the rubble by Dean's team a week ago. 

"I have three kids and I don't wish none of this on anybody. It's a terrible thing," he said.  

A moment of silence at the collapse site on Wednesday night marked the end of a rescue mission to find survivors. The efforts transitioned to recovery, with little expectation of finding anyone alive. Some of the victims' families personally thanked Dean and his team. 

"It's extremely difficult," he said. "We feel the pain. We feel the agony that they're feeling. There's nothing good about what happened here other than trying to provide a little bit of closure for those left behind."

"I think if we give them the closure they want, we'll be able to cope with this afterwards a little bit better," he added.

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