DAYTON, Ohio — Members of Ohio Task Force 1 returned Thursday from Surfside, Florida, where they spent 15 days searching for the remains of people who had lived in the Champlain Towers South condominium building.
“The stuff we saw there isn’t going away,” said task force member and Cincinnati firefighter Capt. Mike Cayse. “I still have memories of what I saw on 9/11. This will be the same way.”
Ohio Task Force 1 had a hand in giving closure to the families of 14 victims, Cayse said. Rescuers have identified a total of 97 people killed when the building buckled on June 24.
Eleven survived with injuries. Eight remain unaccounted for.
The scene was one of the most dangerous deployments in the task force’s history, according to Cayse. They spent the 15-day period climbing over debris, planning and executing a careful exploration of the building’s ruins.
He drew on his experience at the World Trade Center to help more junior members know what to expect.
"It allowed us to take the new members, or those that had been on a while but not at the World Trade Center, focus them, tell them what to expect,” he said. “They weren't surprised by it, so they were more effective at what they were doing."
Still, spending two weeks at the epicenter of a national tragedy was difficult for the task force’s members.
“A lot of mental stress, a lot of emotional impact, a lot of physical strain,” task force leader Jack Reall said. “The outcomes aren’t always what we want them to be.”
Cayse chooses to focus on the good the task force was able to do while in Florida.
“I’m just glad we were able to take that, find the victims and bring them home to their families,” he said.