Md. first responders join local rescue effort for Hurricane Maria relief

WASHINGTON — Maryland Task Force 1 will be joining Virginia first responders already in the Caribbean helping victims of this year’s devastating hurricane season.

“We’re awaiting orders from FEMA. We have people beginning the check-in process and prepping to relocate to Dover Air Force Base for eventual deployment,” said Pete Piringer of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service on Wednesday.

FEMA’s Maryland Task Force 1 team will include 30 or 40 people and a couple tractor-trailers of equipment and supplies, Piringer said.

Virginia Task Force 1 team members have been in the Caribbean since Sept. 6, initially deployed to help victims of Hurricane Irma, mostly on the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Irma activation included some VATF1 team members who had been in Texas for Hurricane Harvey.

“We brought those four folks home and brought some fresh members in,” Assistant Fairfax County Fire Chief Chuck Ryan said.

About 80 members of VATF1 took shelter in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while Hurricane Maria passed, he added. The capital took heavy damage, but Ryan said they’ll be working elsewhere.

“The real vulnerability is away from the city center, for those impacted populations that don’t have the benefit of reinforced concrete structures, hurricane-proof housing, stuff like that,” Ryan said.

Before the latest hurricane hit, Ryan said task force engineers looked for weak spots they might need to return to after Hurricane Maria’s departure. They did assessments of key infrastructure such as bridges, dams and hospitals.

Virginia Task Force 1 team members wait out Hurricane Maria. (Courtesy VA-TF1 / USA-1‏ via Twitter)
Virginia Task Force 1 team members wait out Hurricane Maria. (Courtesy VA-TF1 / USA-1‏ via Twitter)
The task force’s command room is back to work after Hurricane Maria passes San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Courtesy VA-TF1 / USA-1‏ via Twitter)
The task force’s structural engineers are on the job. (Courtesy VA-TF1 / USA-1‏ via Twitter)
Task force members attend a Hurricane Maria pre-storm briefing. (Courtesy VA-TF1 / USA-1‏ via Twitter)

The next assignment will be search-and-rescue missions.

“There’s a command function obviously, a planning function, and then the actual technical search-and-rescue function, K-9 [and] a medical component that provides emergency medical care,” Ryan said.

A typical FEMA deployment lasts 14 days because of the intensity of work conditions. Ryan said it’s hard to predict how much longer VATF1 will remain, but its mission could be extended another 14 days.

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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