2 USAR Task Force 6 team members recount lessons they’ve learned from Surfside

Published: July 12, 2021 6:10 PM EDT
Updated: June 6, 2022 12:16 PM EDT

After working long hours for days to aid in the search and recovery mission at Surfside, two of the members of Southwest Florida’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 6 are finally home.

They say that their work in Surfside is something they’ll never forget. Yet, they hope they won’t ever have to experience something like that again.

The mounds of debris and piles of concrete seen at the Surfside condo collapse site were difficult images to take in. Mathew Marshall and Zair Gonzalez were part of one of the first teams to look for any signs of life.

“When you walk up to a building that basically was 12 stories and is now basically 20 feet off the ground, it hits you,” Marshall said.

These Cape Coral firefighters are part of what’s known as USAR’s Task Force 6. Marshall is a Cape Coral Fire Department battalion chief and is an assistant leader for Task Force 6. Gonzalez is a Cape firefighter and paramedic who handles logistics.

“That’s one of the things that I take away from the big event was the motivation that the guys had,” Gonzalez said. “Throughout the entire duration of the deployment, they just never let up, they were 100% the whole time.”

For 12 hours a day for seven straight days, they worked to dig through the rubble. They handled any and all challenges along the way.

“I think it’s going to be quite some time before we stop thinking about it daily,” Gonzalez said.

As search efforts continue in Surfside, Gonzalez and Marshall say they’re still reflecting on everything that’s happened there and that’s continuing to happen there.

“This is different than anything we do. I hope to never, ever see this again, that’s the hope,” Marshall said. “But if called upon, myself and Zair would walk out that door and do it again.”