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Virginia-based search and rescue team returns from Surfside: 'Challenging and toughest deployment'

Firefighter: 'I remember each one that we removed from the rubble pile'
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Posted at 2:40 PM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 14:46:05-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- For about two weeks, members of Virginia Task Force 2 (VATF-2) have been in south Florida helping with response efforts to the Surfside, Fla., condo collapse. Tuesday, they completed their 975-mile journey back home to Virginia Beach.

Family members welcomed dozens of members back home to Hampton Roads, including Melanie Rivera. Rivera and her children welcomed back her husband, Reggie Rivera.

“The fire family is close,” Melanie said. “It’s been a couple of long weeks, but we’ve made it.”

“We’re excited to get him home and get him back to our normal,” she added.

Rivera, a longtime York County firefighter, was part of the hazmat component, monitoring debris in Surfside and helping recovery efforts.

“It’s probably been the most challenging and toughest deployment,” Reggie said. “It was like Groundhog Day for us - eat, sleep, work and do it all over again.”

For Wyatt Ruzak, he's happy to see his dad, Virginia Beach firefighter Jeffrey Ruzak, back home.

“It’s a little scary because you don’t know what’s going to happen to them, but then it’s also exciting when you hear about what they do and how they help people,” Ruzak said.

The Virginia Beach-based urban search and rescue team was divided into two 35-person teams to work 24-hour operations, with each team working 12-hour shifts.

“This is definitely one of our shining moments, and I couldn’t be more proud of the men and women of this team,” VATF-2 leader Jim Ingledue said. “Their work was successful. Although the victims may not have survived, again, our emphasis was bringing those families back together.”

Ingledue said the team was directly involved in removing about 25 people from the site.

“I remember each one that we removed from the rubble pile,” Newport News firefighter and VATF-2 member Randy Journigan Jr. said. “The reason we kept going and we were doing what we were doing is we wanted to provide closure to the families.”

“You want to be as humane as possible in any of the operations you’re doing,” Norfolk firefighter and VATF-2 member Chris Fultz added. “You have to think about your crew, the family and the victim when you’re removing them.”

Now back in Hampton Roads, VATF-2 members are asking their community to pray for the community of Surfside.

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