MIAMI (CBSMiami) – When the Champlain Towers South partially collapsed in the early morning hours of June 24th, Surfside police were first on the scene along with fire rescue.
For those officers, it was likely the toughest call they ever responded to.
“At the moment that I got the call, about 1:30 in the morning, there’s no opportunity to let the emotions get in. You’re only here to save lives and get in there to rescue people,” said Surfside Police Captain John Healy.
He was on the scene in just minutes. He lost four friends. Despite knowing they were there, he got right to work helping to save lives.
“We did see first-hand people yelling from balconies and shining flashlights down. We told them, we shined back, we yelled to them, our officers were yelling up to them, personnel from the fire department, that ‘we’re here, we’re coming’,” he recalled.
For officers in Surfside, it’s been emotionally draining because of those personal connections that come with living in such a small town. Many know someone who’s dead or missing.
“I get to know everybody. I walk around the streets here, everybody seems to know the police officers that are in this community, not only me, but all the officers that are here because we’re active and we’re out there, community policing every day,” Healy said.
Psychologists are on hand to speak to officers, to help them process their grief and emotions. Healy finds strength at home.
“When I get home, luckily I have a wonderful wife, wonderful family. Two of my three children live here in South Florida, so I’m able to talk to them every day. Mostly, my wife, she’s the strength of our family,” he said.
His wife is not only helping him but the community. She tends to the “Wall of Hope.”
His daughter, who works at Jackson Memorial Hospital, inspires him too — she’s organized a card writing effort to let families know they’re not alone.
Holding up one of the cards, Healy said, “what this is, it’s a heart and it’s a heart saying ‘Surfside Strong we’re praying for you.’ I didn’t ask her to do this, she just called me and said ‘dad, I’m doing this.’ I said, ‘okay’!”
Healy said officers here take comfort from residents saying “thank you” and asking about their well-being.