First responders look back at Surfside collapse; K-9 response team supports those affected

Tomorrow marks the tragic one year anniversary of the catastrophic condo collapse that killed 98 people.

7News is remembering Surfside. We caught up with the brave rescuers who responded with the focus on how their specially trained canine companions aided in the search for survivors, as well as provide comfort to the grieving families of the victims, and to the search team members who toiled day and night in the rubble. Here’s 7’s Kevin Ozebek.

Officer Jihovanna Mayorga-Garcia, City of Miami Police Department: “I can still smell it. You can still see the sadness. To watch the people on the pile, to me was the worst.”

It has been a year since the horrific collapse of Champlain Towers South, but the chilling memories are always there.

Capt. Shawn Campana, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue K-9 Response: “We couldn’t keep up with the demand, both at the family reunification center and at the pile.”

Capt. Shawn Campana and the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Peer Support K-9 Response Team gave comfort to waiting families and to the men and women searching the mountain of debris. 

Captain Shawn Campana: “I’m looking at my brothers and sisters walking around like zombies, you know, with that glazed-over look in their eyes.”

Their dogs were there to ease the pain. They are trained to sense intense emotions and focus on people who are hurting.  

Officer Jihovanna Mayorga-Garcia: “They just brought joy and like a comfort, like, ‘Oh, my God, look, we have you to be here with us and just comfort us.’”

Miami-Dade Firefighter Lucianna Genova remembers how Charlie sensed she needed help.

Lucianna Genova: “I literally just like, knelt down, and I grabbed Charlie and I grabbed his face. You go from a space of being in despair into ‘it’s time to get back to work.’”

Frank Garcia: “Zoe, here.”

Miami-Dade Firefighter Frank Garcia and his golden retriever, Zoe, are on the Florida Task Force One Search and Rescue Team. They were the first K-9 team on the scene at Surfside that morning.

Frank Garcia: “We’re there, like, by 3 a.m. and, you know, it’s like chaos.”

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue shared this video of Zoe in the search. She was one of many dogs who looked for people buried in the rubble.

Frank Garcia: “There’s great moments to be taken as a team, but there’s just so many things that were just so hard to deal with. I made the mistake one time of walking by the wall, the memorial wall that they had. OK, sorry.”

Ninety-eight lives lost. Their families still grieve. For the survivors, their lives have been forever changed. A year on, the first responders say the memories of the search still haunt them.

Frank Garcia: “You’re seeing pictures of families. They’re on vacation. They’re happy. We’re collecting toys. There’s a lot of things to deal with.”

Many are still dealing with the trauma of what they saw.

Capt. Shawn Campana: “It’s still tough to think about some things, to look at some of those pictures to, you know, to talk to people without getting teary-eyed. I think it’s going to take more time, you know, for many of us.”

Even though the work is hard, emotionally and physically, these K-9 teams continue to train, so they can be at their best the next time people need them the most.

Kevin Ozebek, 7News.