STARKE, Fla. — The nature of the imagined scene would be a nightmare for any public safety department: over 15 separate bombings striking “Anytown, USA” and targeting government buildings, police and fire stations, hospitals, schools and other soft targets.
But it was a scene Lake County Fire Rescue’s Light Technical Rescue Team (LTRT), a part of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT), was well prepared for when they recently participated in the Florida National Guard’s Joint Integrated Capabilities Exercise at Camp Blanding.
The exercise, held in late March, was open only to Florida’s most elite public safety special operations teams. Lake’s LTRT, trained to conduct rescues in confined spaces, building collapses, vehicles and water, was one of a handful of teams invited to participate.
During the day-long training, the LTRT was tasked with navigating through the rubble of a hospital, where there were reports of multiple casualties. Their work was labor intensive, requiring breaching and breaking through masses of concrete, pulling victims from the collapsed structure, and even avoiding booby-trapped bodies.
“We set the tone,” said Lake County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Anthony Cuellar, chief of special operations. “It’s a team that Lake County can be proud of.”
Lake County’s SORT is made up of the LTRT and HAZMAT, and consists of 33 highly trained members. Team members are deployed around the state and the country when needed to support other departments who require backup while working major disasters.
In recent years, SORT has worked the Groundhog Day tornadoes in Lake County and a multi-vehicle fatal crash on I-4 in Polk County, to name a few.