First responders from across Hampton Roads headed into Hurricane Irma

Credit: WAVY/Joe Fisher

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A 45-member team from Virginia Task Force 2 is traveling to Puerto Rico ahead of Hurricane Irma.

The team flew out of Chambers Field on Monday night and plan to arrive in Puerto Rico sometime Tuesday.

Virginia Beach Fire Department officials posted pictures to Twitter of the team loading up their gear for the response.

Gallery: Va. Task Force 2 responds to Puerto Rico

The team says it is an advantage to be in place before the storm hits.

“We can’t just let those people suffer,” said Russell Barry, a firefighter with Norfolk Fire-Rescue. “Some people might think it’s crazy or whatever, but it’s not like we are doing something stupid. We’re bringing all this gear … there’s a lot of government planning that goes into this.”

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Irma strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane on Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

FEMA officials briefed the Virginia Beach-based crew. Doctors, K9s and firefighters from twelve departments will search for missing people or search through collapsed structures.

“Time is life,” said Lt. Ray Irizarry, with Currituck County Fire-EMS. “If we are there right as the storm passes then we are able to go ahead and mitigate those issues.”

The NHC issued a hurricane watch Monday for Puerto Rico.

Virginia Beach Fire Chief Dave Hutcheson says dozens of other first responders are on standby should the storm creep up the coast towards the Resort City.

“We’re ready,” he said.