‘The human part of this’ — Maryland task force leader on aiding Florida after Ian’s destruction

The Maryland Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue team, based in Montgomery County, is halfway through its deployment to assist those affected by Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida.

The search and rescue team, one of 28 task forces across the country, is led by Chase Fabrizio, a battalion chief with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, the host agency of the squad. The squad also includes members from Frederick, Howard, Prince George’s County and Washington, D.C.’s fire and rescue departments, as well as civilians.

Since arriving in Orlando on Saturday, MD-TF1 has provided searches in Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, McGregor, Iona and near Sanibel Island.

“There have been people who’ve been in their homes that have either been cut off by flood water or debris,” said Fabrizio. “We’ve also assisted people who do not know where to turn.”

As the team has moved through the neighborhoods, Fabrizio said they have been approached by people who say they’ve lost everything. Some don’t have the means to move to a hotel and others aren’t sure where to find a shelter.

Providing guidance and comfort is as much a part of the job as digging through rubble, he said.

“Sometimes it’s not just about delayering, and breaching, and breaking, and shoring,” said Fabrizio. “Sometimes it’s managing and treating the human part of this.”

He said that members of the task force help link victims with local, state and federal partners that can provide assistance in their time of need.

“When you have someone that’s lost everything, and you can make that connection, you can get that initial worry off their shoulder,” said Fabrizio. “They don’t have to worry about food, or water, or shelter, and they can now focus on the other aspects of moving on with their lives, and starting the recovery process.”

Fabrizio said the team plans to deploy for up to 14 days. It’s unclear whether the team will remain in Florida until next Saturday, or return to Maryland earlier.

Virginia’s Task Force One, hosted by Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, is also in Florida.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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