Thanks and reassurance to crews working the Surfside condo collapse

I hope first responders working the scene can get the psychological care they need, soon


In the last 24 hours, the number missing or accounted for in the aftermath of the 12-story condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida, has gone from about 50 to 99 to 159. I always expected this number to fluctuate. Perhaps naively I thought the number of missing might decline without an increase in the fatality count, but I am shocked and saddened that the number of missing has tripled. 

My heart goes out to the families waiting for news of their loved ones and believing that their mother, father, brother, sister or child might have simply been somewhere else and has yet to check in or, more improbably, will be pulled from the rubble by the heroic rescuers who are searching for signs of life.  

My heart also goes out to the responders who have been searching, sifting and calling out for almost 36 hours. I admire and appreciate the mix of training, dedication and optimism required to search the remains of a collapsed structure.  

Chaplains, peer support teams, therapy dogs and psychologists specifically trained to assist public safety personnel should already be available to all first responders working the scene.
Chaplains, peer support teams, therapy dogs and psychologists specifically trained to assist public safety personnel should already be available to all first responders working the scene. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

When I see images and videos from Oklahoma City, the Twin Towers, and now the Surfside condo building, I am honored to belong to the same community as the firefighters, paramedics, EMTs and police officers who rush toward these unstable structures and risk their own lives to preserve the lives of their neighbors. Thank you. I am humbled to be your colleague.   

I also have a sense of dread for the weeks, months and years that might be ahead for the rescuers in south Florida. Like all of us, they train to save and preserve lives. With each minute that goes by, the chance to save a life decreases. Eventually, and tragically, the rescue operation will transition to a recovery operation. I know some rescuers will be haunted by what-if questions like, “What if we had gotten there a minute sooner?” or “What if we had started our search there instead of here?”  

If I could, I’d give each rescuer reassurance and peace of mind that the decisions they made and actions they took were the best possible at the time they had to decide or act. I’d encourage them to accept that the cruelty of gravity can’t be denied, and that each occupant’s fate was decided in the seconds in which the building collapsed and not determined by the strategies and tactics of search.   

Finally, I hope and trust that incident commanders and department chiefs have already initiated psychological care for all personnel who have responded, as well as those who have assignments in nearby neighborhoods and communities that can’t leave their posts. Chaplains, peer support teams, therapy dogs and psychologists specifically trained to assist public safety personnel should already be available to all, day and night. I especially hope that the middle managers of public safety – company officers, field supervisors and sergeants – are promoting the use and importance of psychological care and taking advantage of those resources for their own mental health and wellness. Chiefs can budget for, procure and direct implementation, but immediate supervisors, I believe, are most important for setting a department’s culture of and acceptance for utilizing mental health resources.  

To everyone in south Florida, thanks for serving your community during this incredible tragedy and every day that follows. 

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