Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who also serves as the State Fire Marshal, on Friday offered an update on search and rescue efforts and thanked emergency responders for their crucial, life-saving actions.
“Our initial response to major disaster is critical when lives are at stake,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “The jobs of first responders are a reminder of why we’re here – to help Floridians in their time of need.”
The State Fire Marshal’s Office, which is responsible for mobilizing search and rescue efforts from the state Emergency Operations Center during an emergency, has since Thursday been activated to assist Floridians coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan. Currently, the office is coordinating four FEMA urban search and rescue teams, six state search and rescue teams and 40 teams of firefighters with equipment available to assist local emergency responders.
These efforts are in addition to State Fire Marshal personnel who on Thursday assisted local and state rescue workers in clearing roadways and boat ramps of debris to allow rescue crews to get to stranded or wounded Floridians. On Friday, State Fire Marshal teams were aiding rescue forces in Perdido Island and East Milton and searching for individuals who may have been trapped due to building collapses.
The department’s Division of Insurance Fraud will on Saturday be mobilized to support law enforcement efforts in storm-affected areas in preventing looting and other crimes associated with natural disasters, including insurance scams and price gouging.
“I’m incredibly proud of the response of our employees, who have been working around the clock, and of all the state and local emergency responders,” added Gallagher. “Many of our emergency coordinators have been on the job since Tropical Storm Bonnie, more than a month ago.”
Gallagher, who on Thursday laid the groundwork for insurance consumer specialists to enter storm-damaged areas in the panhandle to assist consumers in contacting their insurance companies and filing claims, said he would continue to provide support and resources to first responders as long as search and rescue efforts lasted.
Recovery efforts continue in south and central Florida as victims of Hurricanes Charley and Frances begin rebuilding their homes and businesses.
Gallagher, who served as insurance commissioner during Hurricane Andrew, has redeployed insurance specialists and volunteers into affected areas, and the state’s hurricane hotline remains open at 1-800-22-STORM.
More than 30,000 Floridians have reportedly been assisted with insurance questions and complaints.
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