MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In a break from the normal routine, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett took a moment during Friday’s press conference to single out the man leading the rescue effort for Miami-Dade Fire.
“I want to personally thank Ray Jadallah for working 20 hours a day and sleeping four hours a night since the beginning,” Burkett said. “He’s the guy I always see when I’m here and I’m here a lot.”READ MORE: Suspect Wanted For Armed Home Invasion In Critical Condition Following Police-Involved Shooting In SW Miami-Dade
In addition to directing efforts on the site, Jadallah has also been the person who briefs family members daily, speaking honestly with them about the rescue efforts.
“Ray has been a beacon, a rock, a source of hope for the families,” Burkett said. “He’s there at those briefings every single day. He is passionate, he’s compassionate.”
Jadallah, who has been with Miami Dade Fire for 21 years, is no stranger to catastrophes, having worked them across the country and around the world.
In 2018, he was one of four battalion chiefs who oversaw the rescue efforts at the FIU bridge collapse n which six people were killed. A week after the FIU accident, CBS4 News interviewed Jadallah, and his fellow chiefs, Jason Richards, Brandon Webb and Carlos Perez about the work they do and the challenges they face when a structure collapses.
“You size up the scene,” Jadallah told me in 2018. “You look at the type of collapse or what is known as a pancake collapse. The entire bridge just came down at one time flat. The actual collapse tells us, you know, the probability is, you know, real low. However, we did not give up until every car was assessed, either through cameras or other means. And then and only then, once we determine that there were no viable victims, did we shift to a body recovery.”
Obviously, the scale of the current Champlain Towers tragedy in Surfside is far greater, but their approach is the same, and so the conversation we had back in 2018 offers incredible insight into what’s been going on behind the scenes and the difficult decisions yet to be made. In addition to Jadallah, Miami Dade Fire confirms that Perez, Webb and Richards are all part of the current recovery effort.
“We want to find, viable victims that we can rescue,” Richards said in 2018. “And that’s why we go. That’s what we’re here for. And that’s our number one goal all the time.”
“We know that if we’re able to get to them that we’re going to,” Richards continued. “So we go at it one hundred and ten percent based on the information we have.”READ MORE: South Florida Prepping For Approval Of COVID Vaccine For Kids 5 To 11
Search and rescue dogs have always been the key in any disaster. They were used in the FIU search, and they continue to be used in Surfside.
“As time passes and the dogs don’t alert, we know that that the likelihood of anyone surviving the incident is very low,” Webb explained in 2018. “That said that area of probability gives us a little bit of hope in an area to look. And we put all of our effort into that area with the expected outcome that we may locate somebody that we can bring out.”
The work is hazardous, and they accept the danger that comes with it. But there are also lines that they won’t cross and unnecessary risks they won’t take.
“So we are rushing to get the victims out,” Jadallah noted. “Yet we have to take into consideration the safety of our personnel and all the other personnel who are working on scene assisting.”
Ultimately, nothing is more momentous than the decision to move from rescue to recovery.
“It’s very difficult to make that decision to discontinue the search for live victims,” Perez said in 2018.
“We always go into it hoping that we can do a little good in an awful situation,” Webb said. “We try everything we can to rescue victims from beneath the pile. And ultimately, when we determine that they’re not viable, then we turn to trying to do the best we can for the family to recover their loved one in a dignified manner. And as soon as possible.”
“Our job is not done until we’ve finished the job, and part of that job is making sure that we help as much as we can to get these families to some closure,” Richards said in 2018 in words that resonate today with more than 120 people still unaccounted for in Surfside. “And, you know, bring their loved ones, you know, not home, but bring them out of that situation to the best of our abilities. Unfortunately, it’s not always, you know, the way that we would like it to be, but at the end of the day, you know, we feel like it’s our responsibility to not stop until everybody is off that scene.”
The deadly FIU bridge collapse took an emotional toll on the firefighters as well, which can only make you imagine the lingering trauma from what is happening in Surfside. That situation is made worse by the fact that it is taking place where they live as opposed to some distant country.MORE NEWS: Centner Academy Reverses Course On 30-Day Quarantine For Vaccinated Students
“I think I think it makes it personal,” Webb said of the bridge collapse. “We like to think that that it doesn’t affect us. You know, we’re professional responders and emergencies are what we do. But I can tell you that I’ll never drive there again without thinking about it.”