Florida fire chief discusses the psychological toll of search and rescue missions


BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — First responders worked into the night Thursday to rescue victims still trapped after a condo building collapsed in Surfside, Florida.

Officials say 99 people are still missing and 102 have been found after part of the 12-story building collapsed early Thursday morning.

One death has been confirmed, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said there would not be another update until 8 a.m. ET Friday.

Cava did say at 8:30 p.m. ET Thursday that rescuers would be working into the night trying to find anyone who may still be trapped.

Rescue teams are using sonar devices to listen for signs of movement in the rubble, but Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah at a news conference said they do not hear voices.

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Bonita Springs Fire Chief and part of the Florida Search and Rescue Taskforce member Gregory DeWitt says the psychological toll these rescue missions can take on first responders is “unbelievable.”

“As the hours go by, you’re going inch by inch looking for voids, looking for signs of life,” DeWitt said on NewsNation Prime. “As those things don’t show themselves, you start second-guessing yourself. ‘Are we doing the right thing? Are we going far enough?’ It takes an emotional toll on you.”

Despite daunting search and rescue missions, DeWitt says the mindset of first responders generally stays the same.

“After about five or six days, it may change from rescue to recovery but that’s why we do a 12-hour shift — that way we can decompress a little bit,” he said. “We don’t get that fatigue, we don’t get the complacency. So we can make a difference instead of becoming a victim ourselves.”

Watch the full interview with Bonita Springs Fire Chief Gregory DeWitt in the player above.

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