Local first responders in Florida after driving across the country | News | Palo Alto Online |

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Local first responders in Florida after driving across the country

Two Palo Alto firefighters among the 82 people deployed from Task Force 3

Firefighters and other first responders from the Peninsula participating in the Hurricane Irma relief effort have arrived at Eglin Air Force base near Pensacola in the Florida panhandle after a road trip of some 2,465 miles, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District reported Sunday night.

Of the 82 people deployed from Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 3, based in Menlo Park, 30 traveled with the equipment caches in an 11-vehicle tractor-trailer convoy hauling 30 tons of search-and-rescue equipment, including boats and drones, the chief said.

The team includes Palo Alto firefighters Dave Villarreal and Chris Mosko, according to a Facebook post by Palo Alto Firefighters Local 1319.

Fifty-one others arrived in two buses "after 46 hours of almost nonstop driving," Chief Schapelhouman said.

One member of the task force, Carl Kustin, a member of the Incident Support Team, is assigned to the island of St. Thomas to assess hurricane damages there.

The request to mobilize Task Force 3 came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency around 4 p.m. Thursday and boiled down to "Hurry up and get there," the chief said.

Task Force 3 members come from 14 Bay Area firefighting agencies – including in Menlo Park and Woodside – one police agency (in Sunnyvale), dispatchers from San Mateo County, and two corporations: Genentech and SRI International.

"Everybody wants to go," Chief Schapelhouman noted. "This is what these guys train for. They're excited about having the ability to do their jobs and do good things to help people who need their help."

They're working for a larger audience or constituency as "the hands and arms of the Bay Area," he said, "with boots-on-the-ground assistance."

Task Force 3 sent 73 people to the Hurricane Harvey relief effort in late August.

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