Inside the search for survivors after devastating partial collapse of South Florida condo

Search and rescue teams are working hard to find as many survivors of the collapse of a South Florida condo as they can, and an important part of that work involves using K-9s.

Tampa Fire Rescue K-9 coordinator Lt. Brian Smithey explained how rescuers work together with their dogs in situations like Thursday’s condo building collapse in Miami.

"The first entry is going to be by the K9, so we’re going to send the dog up there. If the dog alerts, the dog is going to give us an active bark alert. So the dog has to be able to work out of our sight and independently from us," said Smithey, who has been working in search and rescue for over 20 years.

MORE: Search for survivors continued overnight after South Florida condo collapse

Smithey said K-9s use their powerful noses to smell what humans can’t see under the rubble, such as survivors. His own partner on missions is 5-year-old K-9, Patron, and he smells for people who are still alive.

"I know what he’s thinking before he does it. He knows what I’m thinking before I do it. So it is a unique relationship," said Smithey.

Once a search and rescue dog finds someone, getting them out safely is the key.

Courtesy Jimmy Patronis

"We’re going to know where the dog barked, and we’re going to come back up there with our cameras and our listening devices and really hone in on how deep are they, where are they at," said Smithey.

Smithey and Patron constantly train how to navigate through rubble for when the call comes.

"The last big thing that we did would have been the earthquake in Puerto Rico a year and a half ago, and we were down there for about 10 days or so," said Smithey.

Wherever they’re needed, Smithey said rescuers prepare to do everything they can to get people out.

"With this aspect of it, we stay focused with our job, our task at hand. It’s just this is what we all sign up for," he said. "We don’t wish anything bad on communities or people, but when it does happen we want to be able to help."

Lt. Smithey said search and rescue teams have people working on them with different specialties like K-9s, medics, and even technology. He said everyone has to work together in a situation, so they know where to look and how to safely make their next move.


Courtesy Jimmy Patronis