Va. Beach-based search & rescue team deploys to Fla. for hurricane relief

Photo: @VirginiaBeachFD/Twitter

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has ordered the Virginia Beach-based Urban Search and Rescue team to deploy to Florida ahead of Hurricane Matthew.

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The team, known as Virginia Task Force 2 (VA-TF2), left Thursday night to help with relief operations.

“A direct hit with winds at this speed can cause widespread severe structural damage,” said Tom Caldwell, who’s been a structural engineer with the force for 20 years.

The 88-member team is made up of firefighters, engineers, medical professionals, logistics and communications experts and K-9 handlers from Hampton Roads and across the Commonwealth.

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VA-TF2 has conducted search and rescue operations in the aftermath of multiple hurricanes.

“I try to put myself in the position of someone who is trapped waiting there, crammed and not knowing if they are not going to get out,” said Lori Tocke, a canine handler who’s been with the task force since 2002.

Most recently, the team responded to South Carolina after Hurricane Joaquin caused record flooding and widespread destruction in 2015. In 2012, the team was sent to New York to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. The year before that, the team helped with relief in Virginia Beach and Lakehurst, New Jersey after Hurricane Irene cause flooding and damage. VA-TF2 also conducted search and rescue operations in Haiti after a massive earthquake devastated the island in 2010. The task force responded to the terror attack on the Pentagon in 2001 and the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 as well.

“Maybe we find their pet; their dog or cat,” said Chief Dennis Keane, task force leader. “Those are the small rewards. I don’t think anyone is in it for the reward, but it’s one of those nice things that happens afterwards.”

The Virginia Beach Fire Department is the sponsoring agency for VA-TF2.