County delegation heads to help Puerto Rico

A light task force and a hazardous equipment push package (HEPP) team from Maryland Task Force 1 deployed Sunday to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to provide relief following Hurricane Maria.

Maryland Task Force 1 is composed of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service personnel.

Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm when it made landfall in Puerto Rico, has resulted in flooding, damaged buildings, widespread power outages and at least 10 deaths across the island, news media reported.

The light task force team, also called a Type 4, is a smaller, more mobile contingent of the Task Force, said Michael Leigh, a Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service battalion chief. While the full Task Force has 80 members, the Type 4 team is comprised of 27 personnel.

“They still have the doctors and engineers and K9s, so they have everybody, but it’s easier to get them moved around,” said Leigh.

Maryland Task Force 1 is one of 28 such teams the Federal Emergency Management Agency has throughout the country.

The light task force’s main objective is search and rescue, said Pete Piringer, chief spokesperson for Montgomery Fire and Rescue.

“Typically in a hurricane, you have wind and water damage and you have infrastructure damage,” Piringer said. “It’s often the search and rescue teams that are the first ones to get into certain areas, so there may be medical needs to focus on, taking care of the emerging needs that a community might have that has gone through this situation. They’re equipped and able to deal with just about any situation.”

Leigh said the search and rescue task force members will leave San Juan to venture into more remote areas of Puerto Rico. The hazardous equipment push package (HEPP) team of six members will decontaminate the search and rescue personnel when they return from their 12- to 14-hour missions.

“Because they’re going out in pretty contaminated environments with some of the mud and everything that’s washed into that with chemicals, and just a big variety of nasty stuff, they actually help do the decontamination of people when they come back,” said Leigh.

The Task Force members are capable of staying in Puerto Rico 10- 14 days, Piringer said. A full contingent of Task Force personnel is on standby in Maryland.

“We’re anticipating that additional crews may be sent to provide relief or replacement of some of the team assets that are currently in Puerto Rico or elsewhere,” Piringer said.

The deployment to San Juan following Hurricane Maria marks the third time Maryland Task Force 1 teams have deployed this hurricane season. Previously, the swift water component and the HEPP component traveled to Texas to assist with Hurricane Harvey relief, and the HEPP component deployed to Alabama and Georgia to prepare for the possibility that Hurricane Irma would continue along the coast, though the team ultimately did not conduct operations there.

The Task Force is usually deployed only once or twice during hurricane season, Leigh said.



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