On Jan. 7, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico, leaving the island devastated. When it declared a state of emergency, South Florida Task Force 2, which consists of city of Miami firefighters, deployed 45 members to assist in search and rescue efforts. With more than 80,000 pounds of equipment, the team faced several challenges. Among them was not having a military plane available and having to find a commercial plane instead.
The team arrived in San Juan even as 10 to 20 aftershocks per day were rumbling areas in the south, where they were assigned. “Our biggest expectation is to always return home safely and that every member that goes out the door, comes back in one piece,” said Scott Dean, assistant fire and special operations chief. “Our job is to provide whatever service we can for that community that is living through that disaster. We want to help out any way possible.”
The deployment lasted 15 days. They assessed the damage to infrastructure and talked to locals to ensure their safety. Since the earthquake happened in the middle of the night, the task force was mostly there to support Puerto Rican citizens. However, Dean emphasized the importance of timing when it comes to natural disasters.
“With earthquakes, you just don’t know when it is going to happen,” he said.
One of the structures the task force identified needed more attention was a three-story elementary school that turned into a one-story in a pancake collapse. “If this would’ve happened at 11 a.m. during a school day, we’d be looking at a very different situation.”
Luckily there was only one death directly attributed to the earthquake. As massive destruction occurred in residential homes, buildings and commercial structures, the Puerto Rican community remained strong. However, some locals expressed outrage at the lack of empathy from unaffected areas, task force members said.