'Relieved to be home': Philly search and recovery task force back from Surfside condo site

Search and recovery team members from Philadelphia return home after assisting at the site of a collapsed condominium in South Florida.
Search and recovery team members from Philadelphia return home after assisting at the site of a collapsed condominium in South Florida. Photo credit Antionette Lee/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf traveled to Northeast Philadelphia on Friday to welcome home members of Pennsylvania Task Force 1. They returned after spending two weeks in Surfside, Florida assisting recovery efforts after the condominium collapse there.

It was a warm and cheerful welcome from families and a drumline, but task force leader Randy Padfield said the work was taxing.

"Relieved to be home. It was a long, arduous mission," Padfield conveyed.

"Unfortunately, we were not able to affect any live rescues, but the work that we did is really critical...any mementos that we could pull from the rubble pile to be able to help (families) with the closure process."

The team initially thought this was a search and rescue mission, but quickly learned it was actually a recovery mission.

"Everyday and every night on that incident, we were digging through rubble that contained peoples personal (belongings), their family pictures, all of the items that they would have in their house or condominium," said Padfield, who said he also worked at the scene of the horrors of 9/11.

"Literally, it was all laying in a heap."

He and his fellow task force members said it wasn’t just physical demanding, but also a mental struggle digging through piles of rubble in the heat and rain.

"We had long days, probably 15 hour shifts...the work was hard physically, mentally, emotionally, but the hospitality was unbelievable," Donna Garrett from the Philadelphia Fire Department shared with pride about the work her team accomplished.

"Just happy to be back home and relax for a few days before I start back work."

Task Force 1 is just one of 28 that are part of the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System. They’re sponsored by the Philadelphia Fire Department.