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Members of Ohio Task Force 1 return to Florida, one year following condo collapse

On Friday, remembrance events will be held to mark the anniversary of the disaster that claimed 98 lives.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jacob Bench works as a civil engineer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. His job, every day, is to make sure structures, primarily dams, bridges, and other infrastructure, are safe. He said it’s his responsibility to make sure an event like what happened in Surfside, Florida one year ago, never happens here in Ohio.

“The level of concern that, you know, engineers take is very high,” Bench said.

The husband and father to two young daughters is also a civilian volunteer for Ohio Task Force 1.

On June 24, 2021, a condo building partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida. In all, 98 lives were lost. Ohio Task Force 1 was sent to aid emergency crews in recovery efforts.

Bench was part of that mission, making sure areas of the debris were as secure as possible to maintain the safety of his peers. The scene following the collapse posed many safety risks for rescue crews.

“The engineer’s role is to evaluate the options with the rescue personnel and help them and work with them to mitigate those issues and hopefully, you know, make a safe entry to be able to, you know, protect themselves and protect the victim while they're trying to extract them in rescue,” he explained.

His peers were searching for possible survivors, and eventually, bodies.

“You mourn for those people that you were struggling to find.”

He said over the last year he has thought often about the experience. He said it was an experience where he grieved for strangers. And the grieving process continues today.

“I came back cherishing family and friends in a different way,” he said.

When Bench returned home to Ohio, he had an even deeper appreciation for his own family.

“I don't think anybody left that, you know, unchanged,” he said.

Credit: OHTF1

He said for those who experienced that event, including himself as a civilian volunteer, it’s extremely hard to process.

“I would say civilians on the team who don't come from the fire rescue background, where we're not used to seeing, you know, trauma on a daily basis. In fact, I spend my entire, you know, every day, I spend time trying to make sure that something will never happen at a structure I'm working to this effect.”

On Thursday, June 23, 2022, Bench traveled with his wife and other members of Ohio Task Force 1, back to Surfside, Florida. On Friday, they will attend several remembrance events. One will be hosted by the town of Surfside and First Lady Jill Biden is scheduled to be there as well.

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