Cape Cod firefighters to aid Hurricane Ian search and rescue effort: What they will do

As part of Massachusetts Search and Rescue Task Force 1, three Cape Cod firefighters joined a 46-member team that deployed to Florida on Friday.

The firefighters are part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA's Urban Search & Rescue team, said Jack Phelan, chief of the Mashpee Fire Department, and will assist with search and rescue missions following the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian.

Task Force 1 is comprised of officers from six New England states with three Cape officers included — Lt. Richard Thayer of Mashpee Fire Department, Eric Diamond of Harwich Fire Department, and Capt. Ralph Sylvester of Chatham Fire Department, said Neal Aspesi, public information representative for Task Force 1,

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The team regularly trains in Beverly, Massachusetts, and includes police, fire, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and civilian members who respond to major disasters under FEMA contracts. Currently, there are 150 people on Task Force 1, according to its website.

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With conditions in Florida currently clear and sunny, said Aspesi, Task Force 1 will join state, federal, and local agencies throughout the southwest sections of the state to conduct search and rescue operations.

"It's warm and humid so that takes an effect on some of the work they are doing," Aspesi said. "But the teams will rotate and give the initial teams a break as they have been working for so long."

Task Force 1 will be deployed in Florida for 14 days, said Aspesi, although the federal teams will remain on in Florida.

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"Initial assessments identified the need for additional search and rescue assets," he said. "We marry up with the local and state resources so they can rest and rotate through for the most efficient searches possible."

Phelan said Task Force 1 drove to Florida in under 24 hours and arrived with equipment, as well as food reserves.

"They are pretty self-contained because it's difficult to rely on resources in Florida right now," he said. "They bring all the food, equipment and they drive straight through until they get there."

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Officers are also highly trained, said Phelan. Once a month they gather in Beverly to train and twice a year they also hold multi-day training.

"Last year they did a building collapse scenario and they had multiple teams from all different areas that participated in that," he said.

All three officers have responded to past search and rescue efforts.

Thayer was deployed to Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria in 2017. During Hurricane Katrina, teams similar to Task Force 1 were deployed to New Orleans, where Phelan said they went door-to-door looking for people who needed help.

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"Then they would mark the doors as they checked them and it's an intense job," he said. "Their job functions (in Florida) will really depend on what they find when they get there."

Chatham Fire Chief David DePasquale said Sylvester participated in multiple search and rescue deployments in Florida and Houston and said he also has federal training to do search and rescue missions by boat.

When they call out Task Force 1

"They are going into flooded areas, assigned to search and rescue to try to find people," he said.

DePasquale said Task Force 1 is only called out of state if storms are serious.

"They needed a lot of people because of the severity of Hurricane Ian," he said. "Usually they just take the closest groups (task forces) first. The fact that they drew from Massachusetts said they needed all the help they could get."

Phelan said public safety, in general, whether it's police, fire, or power companies, all work better together.

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"I don't think we do well when we isolate ourselves and try to do things on our own," he said. "We are better as a team."

As work assignments and orders remain ongoing, Aspesi said Task Force 1 is ready to support the needs of the state of Florida, and local communities affected by Hurricane Ian.

"None of the team members that are there necessarily want to see these situations happen but this is what we train, and strive for — to go and make a difference and help," he said.

Contact Rachael Devaney at Follow her on Twitter: @RachaelDevaney.

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This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod firefighters to assist Hurricane Ian rescue, recovery