Miami building collapse

Miami Condo Collapse: Bay Area Fire Chief Describes Search and Rescue Operation

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman detailed the risky rescue operation underway in South Florida

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The shocking sight of the Miami-area building collapse resonates all the way to California. That's because the emergency response teams at the scene are federal partners with a unit in the Bay Area.

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman runs the Bay Area federal response team – a FEMA task force – and has previously partnered with the two Florida units now dealing with the building collapse.

"They’re fighting time and they’re fighting the stability of the structure," he said.

Schapelhouman has been watching as the Miami-Dade group sends back video of the operation.

"This is dangerous stuff," he said. "I’m gonna tell you right now, they’re taking risks. You want to make those risks, you want to calculate what the risk versus reward is and you want to spend the time. You don’t have much to try to figure out where people are."

Schapelhouman is currently at a statewide meeting of response teams in Sacramento, where several chiefs are keeping an eye on the situation.

He said his unit dealt with similar situations in New York City on 9/11 and after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

He said federal response teams now come equipped with equipment and personnel to deal with all sorts of possible scenarios.

"That means they have structural engineers, they have heavy equipment operators, they have rescue squads specially trained to do this type of work, not just firefighters," he said.

Schapelhouman said the first 24 hours are crucial for rescuing survivors. After that, the chance of finding people alive drops, while the possibility of a secondary collapse goes up.

"So how do you stabilize it and not have the rest of it collapse and kill rescuers that are on-site, too?” he said.

At this point, Schapelhouman and other building experts are watching the operation closely to keep track of the progress and see if a cause can be determined.

Pictures Show Aftermath of Miami Beach Condo Building Collapse

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