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Firefighters Continue Search for Survivors

Days after a Miami building collapse IAFF members rescue dozens, but many still unaccounted for

Brian Young's picture
Jun 29, 2021

On Thursday, June 24th, the 12-story Champlain Towers South in Surfside Florida collapsed killing at least 11 people. As of June 29th, over 150 people are still deemed missing.

As the building came down, members of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) rushed to the scene to begin a mission to recover as many victims as possible. Working day and night these brave firefighters fought the ensuing fire that resulted from the collapse. They also began moving the rubble and conducting rescues from the surrounding building that didn’t collapse. According to the IAFF, Metro-Dade, FL Local 1403, Broward County, FL Local 4321, and members of other area Florida locals that are a part of Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 and 2 rescued dozens of people from the area.

Even as hopes dwindle that any survivors will be found alive, these firefighters continue to search in the rubble to try and find anything that might give the victims' families comfort. Search and Rescue teams have been deployed from all over the world to help in the effort. Video can be seen of the rescue workers slipping underneath blocks of concrete to get to the lower levels of the collapse.

Sadly, the IAFF has experienced the trauma that working on a collapse like this can bring. After losing 343 members on 9/11, IAFF members along with volunteers for many trades, police officers, and many other volunteers, spent countless days digging through the rubble. To help the members deal with the trauma, the IAFF has announced that they have deployed peer support teams who will be visiting local firehouses to advise those on shift that peer support services are available to anyone in need. The union is also on hand to make sure that respiratory/PPE issues and exposure tracking is dealt with to prevent not only the spread of COVID-19 but to ensure that members are not breathing in the toxic chemicals from the building. Following 9/11, over 200 firefighters have died from 9/11 related illnesses that are attributed to breathing in the toxic air following the collapse of the World Trade Center.

“Our members from across the state are working around the clock in a volatile situation to locate every possible survivor,” says General President Edward Kelly. “The entire IAFF is praying for all those affected by this tragedy and we will continue to provide all needed resources to our members in the 12th District.”

In the days since the collapse, new information has come to light about the structural issues in the building that put these people in danger. In a letter dated April 9th from board President Jean Wodnicki, structural issues within the building were laid out including letting the residents know that issues pointed out in a 2018 report would need to be fixed and that new problems had been found. “The concrete deterioration is accelerating,” Wodnicki wrote in her letter as she sought to explain why residents were being asked to pay about $15 million for the repairs. “The roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated,” she said. “Other previously identified projects have been rolled under the main project. New problems have been identified. Also, costs go up every year.”

According to the 2018 “Structural Field Survey Report” conducted by engineer Frank Morabito, the board was warned of major structural damage to a slab of concrete beneath the building’s pool as well as major “cracking” in the beams of the walls in the parking garage.

Just 36 hours before the collapse, a pool contractor snapped photos of cracking concrete, severely corroded rebar under the pool, and standing water all over the parking garage. The contractor, who asked not to be named, shared these photos with the Miami Herald. The contractor, who reportedly worked in the industry for decades, actually spoke to a maintenance worker about his concerns about the conditions of the structure. According to the Miami Herald, the area with the deepest standing water was parking spot 78 — an area that building plans show is located directly under the pool deck wherein a 2018 inspection report, engineer Morabito had flagged a “major error” in the original design that was allowing water intrusion and causing serious damage to the structural concrete slabs below.

In the pool equipment room, located on the south side of the underground garage, the contractor saw another problem — exposed and corroding rebar in the concrete slab overhead. He snapped some pictures and sent them to his supervisor along with a note expressing concern that the job might be a bit more complicated than expected. He worried they would have to remove pool pipes to allow concrete restoration experts access to repair the slabs.

Just two days later, before the contractor could enter his bid, the building collapsed. At least one expert, Mohammad Ehsani, an engineer and concrete restoration expert who invented QuakeWrap technology, a way to reinforce old concrete columns, said that after looking at the photos if that was the state of other areas underneath the building then the corrosion could definitely be a cause for the collapse.

While the city and building experts pour over the details of the building and what other buildings might need retrofitting in the area, IAFF members are committed to continuing their search for any possible survivors. “As long as there is the hope of finding anyone alive, our members will continue their valiant efforts,” says General Secretary-Treasurer Frank Lima. “I am very proud of their professionalism and dedication to duty.”

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