Surfside condo collapse

Police Officer Describes ‘Hopelessness' at Scene of Surfside Condo Collapse

Police officers with Bal Harbour reflect one year after the Champlain Towers South collapsed

NBC Universal, Inc.

Nearly a year after the Surfside condo collapse, first responders carry what they saw and heard with them.

“Sometimes I go by and it touches me. It touches my heart,” said Bal Harbour Police Sgt. Braxton McClams. 

In an interview with NBC 6, McClams recalled what he and his officers witnessed on June 24.

“Hysterical, screaming—young and old,” he said.

The Miami native told NBC 6 his grandmother’s lessons kept him moving.

“My grandmother taught me … you stay focused on what you do to other people,” the sergeant said. “That gave me a lot of strength to be able to help other people.”

Officer Erica Blanco was with him. She described what she saw with one word: hopelessness. 

“I’ve never felt hopeless as a police officer. Usually, we get to a scene and we are the ones that fix the problem. There is an issue and we have the solution. It was the first time in 10 years that I had no solution,” Blanco said.

The moments are etched in her mind.

“All I could do was (to) look at them and pray for them and that was a feeling that stayed with me for a very long time. It’s still with me till this day,” Blanco told NBC 6.

Those thoughts were magnified for Blanco when her daughter, Olivia, was born into a police family.

Blanco’s husband is also a Bal Harbour police officer.

“Now, when those two things collide, they are happening all within the same year. It changes everything,” she said.

Blanco told us the magnitude of what she had witnessed came out when she was in her car on the phone with a close friend.

“I broke down and started crying, and I was like, I don’t know how I’m doing,” Blanco said. “In this field, especially people are afraid to talk about these situations,” she said.

Bal Harbour Chief Raleigh Flowers said he remembered looking up and seeing the bedroom of a child.

“You see the sheets and the pillows and the baby’s toys and to me, man, that was was heartbreaking,” Flowers said. “We’re human and we’re just like them. And when they hurt, we hurt as well.”

Flowers brought in mental health professionals for his officers and he said he was the first one to go in to see them. 

“We offered them critical stress debriefing sessions. And you know cops, we got this ‘macho’ attitude we’re fine I don’t need help,” Flowers said. “We gave them a platform to have some to talk to.”

Blanco said it helped. 

“I found that the more I talked about it, the better I felt and the more I was able to heal," she said.

To heal as she experienced another life-changing moment: the birth of her daughter, Olivia. 

“She placed her on my chest and it was as if she took my heart out of my body and placed it on top of me, and I don’t want to do short of everything for her,” Blanco said. “All I can do is hope and pray that she’s safe.”

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