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Miami Fire Chief: Agencies Will Analyze Rescue Efforts Of July 4th Boating Accident Victims

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Nearly a week after the July Fourth tragedy on Biscayne Bay in which four people died and a dozen others were injured, Miami Fire Chief Maurice Kemp says the various local fire departments, police departments and state and federal agencies that responded to the tragedy will analyze their efforts.

“We’re going to meet with all the agencies and have an after action meeting where we’ll talk about how can we do it better” Kemp said during a press conference Thursday outside City Hall. “There are always things you can do better.”

The response to the chaotic scene has been criticized. The Miami Fire Department withdrew its 54 firefighters and paramedics, as well as its two fire boats, by 2 am even though 20-year-old Tori Dempsey and 23-year-old Andy Garcia were still missing. Chief Kemp said they didn’t know they were missing. He said they were told all of the victims had been located.

CBS4 Investigator Jim DeFede asked Kemp who specifically notified him that all of the victims had been located.

Click here to watch Jim DeFede’s report. 

“I am not going to be specific at this time because there is an investigation still ongoing,” he said.

Kemp stressed repeatedly during a press conference at City Hall that the Miami Fire Department was not involved in actually looking for victims.

“The Miami Fire Department’s role in this incident was to provide treatment and transport for the injured and that was the role that we fulfilled,” he said, adding later: “We were not the primary search agency, we were not there to search for victims, we were there to treat and to transport.”

The fact that the Miami Fire Boat was not involved in the search for the missing raises serious questions. The Miami Fire Boat would have been the only boat on the water that night with a special infrared radar system – known as FLIR – that can detect bodies in darkness either on the water or under the water.

KEMP: “We do have FLIR; we do have infrared capabilities on the fireboat.”
DEFEDE: “Were they used that night?”
KEMP: “No we were primarily responsible for treatment and transport of the injured we were not actively involved in searching for people that night.”

The fathers of Tori Dempsey and Andy Garcia got onto a private boat to search on their own after Miami Fire and other agencies left the scene. And it was their boat that ended up pulling Tori’s body out of the water at 7:30 am. Andy Garcia’s body was found a few hours later by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue – that sent their first boat to the scene more than nine hours after the accident.

Earlier in the day Kemp told Miami City Commissioners that there were more than 70 vessels and 100 individuals who initially responded to the search.

Kemp was asked if he would have liked to see the county’s fire boat out there that night as well – with its advanced search abilities.

“Would it have made a difference,” Kemp asked rhetorically. “I don’t know. But that’s not my issue. My issue is the response was adequate and I think the uniform and the civilians did an incredible job of responding to a chaotic scene.”

Late Thursday, the Coast Guard said they were in charge of coordinating the rescue efforts. But Coast Guard officials couldn’t explain why the City of Miami fire units – and others – went home around 1 or 2 am. Nor could they explain why the city was told that all of the boaters had been found when in fact two were missing.

In a statement the Coast Guard wrote: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims of this tragedy. Sadly, this incident highlights the dangers of boating, especially at night. The Coast Guard responded immediately, was on-scene within eleven minutes, and continued its search throughout the night until the last victim was recovered the following afternoon. As Search and Rescue (SAR) Mission Coordinator, the Coast Guard’s role is to coordinate and deconflict search efforts on-scene between supporting agencies. On the night in question, the Coast Guard coordinated the search efforts of on-scene federal, state, and local agencies assisting with the search, including Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Air Bureau. The Coast Guard did not suspend the search; this was an active, ongoing operation from 10:34 pm until 12:31pm the following afternoon when the last victim was recovered. There were numerous air and surface assets from multiple agencies on scene during this entire evolution. The Coast Guard continues to urge the public to take all possible safety precautions before going out on the water, most importantly, always wear a life jacket.”

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