Fairfax County search and rescue teams hard at work on St. Thomas

The island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, hard-hit by Hurricane Irma, is the assignment for Virginia Task Force 1. That’s the 80-member team made up of urban search and rescue and water rescue specialists. All are Fairfax County firefighters.

At least four people are reported to have died on St. Thomas and damage there is said to be catastrophic. Irma was a Category Five hurricane when it struck the island late last week, battering buildings and ripping the roof off St. Thomas’ only hospital., the Roy Schneider Medical Center. Patients were evacuated to the island of St. Croix.

The VATF1 team, with the help of K-9s, will be searching through wreckage on the island, looking for victims who may still be trapped in debris. They have their work cut out for them. An ABC News reporter who flew over the island reported that whole neighborhoods have been destroyed, boats have been tossed up onto streets clogged with other debris and one church had its steeple ripped away. The airport is seriously damaged.

VATF1 loads supplies

VATF1 photo

Some members of the task force from Fairfax are remaining in San Juan, Puerto Rico, providing logistical support to the National Disaster Medical Service, loading an Emergency Room cache of equipment onto aircraft for transport.

Last week 14 members of the task force spent several days in Kingwood, Texas, Northeast of Houston, rescuing victims of Hurricane Harvey. This is the first time that this search and rescue team has had a less than 24-hour turnaround to assist with back-to-back historic storms.

Fairfax County’s 210-member VA-TF1 team consists of firefighters, paramedics, search and rescue specialists, structural engineers, physicians, hazardous materials specialists, planning and logistical staff, and canines and handlers. In addition to its regular complement of equipment, the team will also deploy with two inflatable boats with its water rescue specialists.

The team doesn’t know how long it will be before its work is done and it can return home to Fairfax.



About the Author

Ed Tobias
Ed Tobias brings more than four decades of reporting and news management experience to his work at FairfaxNews. Tobias managed news coverage for Associated Press Radio for over twenty years.  This included coverage of the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the death of Princess Diana, the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters and national election primaries, conventions and campaigns.  He was part of the team that built AP’s on-line video operation. Prior to joining AP, Tobias was News Director at all-news WTOP in Washington, D.C. He has won two Ohio State Awards for his reporting and producing and he led coverage that won an Edward R. Murrow Award.