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Ohio Task Force One Aiding In Surfside Recovery Efforts

Ohio Task Force One on site in Surfside, Florida.
Ohio Task Force One/Facebook
Ohio Task Force One on site in Surfside, Florida.

Ohio Task Force One is one of FEMA’s 28 urban search and rescue teams working at the Champlain Towers Condominium disaster site in Surfside, FL. WYSO’s Jerry Kenney spoke to Evan Shumann, program manager for Ohio Task Force One, about what it's like for task force members as they shift their search and rescue operation to one of recovery.

Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):

Evan Shumann: We have eight or nine team members deployed this time that were also part of the 9/11 response, which is the last time something similar to this large of a building collapse. This type of structure collapse, as you know, it doesn't happen frequently in this country. Thank goodness. So, how we get there, how we engage, how we get into this battle rhythm, all of that is an emotionally draining effort, especially the stops and goes in the first few days until they got that building demo'd and the pace of work starts to pick up.

The heat index for the day crew out here is is in the 90s to low 100s. The night crew has to work under lights systems on the rubble pile. So, it's kind of a different experience environment for the two different crews. And then it depends on some of the members of the squads and other members from the task force who are helping the rescue squads. One rescue squad from the night shift the night before last came across a room that had six potential victims. They found four of them kind of all huddled together, almost like they were hugging each other on the bed. And it took quite a while to not only remove, but to put it around them. But then they had to separate each body and put them in the - you can kind of picture what that must have been like for those 10 or 12 people doing that. And then two hours later, they came across the other two people in that room and by the end of that shift, they had removed all six. So... So, try just try to picture yourself doing that and every single one of those listeners is going to have a different feel for that and that is how it affects my team members.

Jerry Kenney: So, how long do you expect to be down there? Obviously, this is going to take some time. What determines when you leave?

ES: That is kind of a challenging question to answer. Technically, the FEMA system has a policy that says if you accept the activation task force, you are expected to be deployable for up to 16 days. That's 14 days of operations and supposedly a day to travel on each end. So, if we stick with that, if FEMA does stick with that, then our 14 days of operations will expire this coming Wednesday, the 14th of July.

However, the pace of delayering and recovery has really started to increase now that we're into this kind of better rhythm. So, I really can't say if we will have completed the job by next Wednesday. It may be a case where maybe it'll only take until Thursday or Friday, in which case people may ask of the agencies that sponsor the task forces, that oversee the task forces, to allow them to stay for an extra day or two or three, and in which case we would probably stay until we're finished. If the expectation is that this is going to take another two or three weeks. And obviously you can't keep these people working for nearly a month. And then FEMA would probably bring in a new supply of task forces to replace us at the end of two weeks.

JK: Evan, what do you want those of us who are watching this tragedy from a distance to know?

ES: The team members that make up the state of Ohio's come from over 75 agencies that supply personnel, [they] mostly come from fire and police, but we do have - Ohio State University has three doctors on the team. Miami Valley Hospital, I know Dr. Marriott is actually down here working the night shift. The City of Dayton has 10 or 12 people on the task force, half of which are down here, including the district chief, Adam Landis, one of the task force leaders who's leading the day shift.

If you could somehow, you know, communicate to the citizens of Ohio that these are people that are in their own communities. These aren't some special forces kind of team. These are people that are from their own fire departments, their own communities that serve them every single day and now they're down here fulfilling this mission. They are working 12 hours a day almost nonstop. They come home, they get three or four, five hours of sleep and get up again and have a meal, drive back over there and start another 12-hour shift. So, it's an extraordinary group of individuals under exceptional leadership and the state of Ohio should be immensely proud of this team.

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.