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7 firefighters working at Surfside condo collapse test positive for COVID-19

The Jacksonville firefighters reportedly had mild symptoms and have since returned home


Search and rescue workers load gear and tools into a bin while working on the collapsed Champlain Towers south site.

Photo/Emily Michot/Miami Herald/TNS

UPDATE: 7:15 a.m. PT

Dan Scanlan
The Florida Times-Union

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Seven Jacksonville firefighters who volunteered to help search a collapsed South Florida condominium have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to Fire and Rescue Department officials.

They have returned home, as have the rest of the 80-person team sent a week ago to help in the massive search effort for the victims of the fallen Champlain Towers South in Surfside.

“We recognized it early, tested everybody and we separated anybody who is positive and sent them home early,” Capt. Eric Prosswimmer said.

No one knows how the unidentified firefighters, who joined about 350 from across the world in the effort, came down with the virus. Prosswimmer could not answer if the seven had been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky confirmed the positive cases Friday, telling the Tampa Bay Times that the infected firefighters were from a Florida rescue team, but not from his group.

“We do have our medical procedures in place,” Cominsky said. “Unfortunately, this is another challenge but something we’ve been dealing with for over the past year.”

The condominium tower collapsed about 1:15 a.m. on June 24 in the small beachside town north of Miami Beach with many residents asleep when it happened, officials said. On June 27 a convoy of Jacksonville urban search and rescue team members were en route to South Florida after the state requested help working in the rubble.

As of Tuesday, 113 people have yet to be found in 13 days of search. The death count stands at 32 confirmed to have died.

As for those Jacksonville firefighters infected with COVID-19, they apparently had “minor symptoms,” Prosswimmer said.

“The state ... had been replacing the Florida teams with them so that Florida could get back to their cities with this storm coming,” Prosswimmer said Tropical Storm Elsa.

Four more bodies were discovered early Tuesday as searches resumed hours after the remaining sections of the condominium were brought down Sunday in a controlled implosion, according to USA Today. The demolition was done due to concerns that winds from the approaching storm would topple the remaining tower and further endanger the ongoing search efforts.

That search was paused temporarily late Monday due to lightning storms. Now rescue efforts “will continue 24 hours a day for the indefinite future until all the bodies are found,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said.

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Joey Flechas
The Miami Herald

SURFSIDE, Fla. — The challenges for search-and-rescue crews combing through the ruins of the collapsed Surfside condo tower continued to mount Friday when it was announced that six firefighters had tested positive for COVID-19.

On top of a complex and dangerous search operation, inclement weather, fires, the potential threat of Tropical Storm Elsa and the mental health toll that comes with pulling victims from the pile of broken concrete and bent steel, the coronavirus has now infected six of the more than 350 rescue workers helping in the rescue and recovery of victims from fallen Champlain Towers South.

It wasn’t immediately clear if any of the rescue team members had been quarantined.

Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky confirmed the number of positive cases on Friday. He said the infected firefighters are from a rescue team from Florida, but not in Miami-Dade.

“We do have our medical procedures in place,” Cominsky said. “Unfortunately, this is another challenge but something we’ve been dealing with for over the past year.”


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