Grapevine Firefighter Reflects on Support Mission in Surfside

A North Texas firefighter is back home after providing emotional support to fellow first responders working at the scene of the condominium collapse in Florida

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In the three weeks since the deadly condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida, crews have worked tirelessly to recover the remains of victims from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South.

Close to 100 people have been recovered and identified, and the effort is ongoing.

It's a process that has been grueling for the many people waiting for updates about their loved ones and one that can also be difficult for first responders.

"Just seeing the level of devastation, destruction in person and up close ... it's kind of unbelievable the tragedy," said Grapevine firefighter and paramedic Josh Santiago.

Santiago deployed to Florida, along with Garland Fire Department Capt. J.D. Schulgen and Lt. Matt Brawner, as part of a peer support team.

The firefighters are trained to offer emotional support to other firefighters in times of tragedy, and sometimes just listening is as important as offering other resources, Santiago said.

“We have to take care of each other so we can take care of everyone else,” he said. 

Hearing the stories of families who lost loved ones, such as the firefighter whose 7-year-old daughter was found in the rubble, was heartbreaking for Santiago, a father of three.

He said the first responders there are working with the families of the victims of the June 24 collapse in mind.

"They're going to do everything they possibly can to try and hopefully bring that closure to those families," Santiago said. "I know their heart breaks for them as well because it's a huge tragedy to see that much loss of life in one place."

This was Santiago's first time deploying as part of a peer support team and plans to do so again to offer his help.

“My department along with several others in the area are putting mental health of its first responders at the forefront of their mission, and it’s great to see that,” Santiago said.

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