VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Virginia Task Force 2 returned to Virginia Beach Monday after almost two weeks in Southwest Florida.
The team was part of the search and rescue mission after Hurricane Ian decimated places like Fort Myers Beach.
On September 24, 45 members of the task force set out for Florida. They saw the destruction Hurricane Ian left behind firsthand.
"It was mostly the single-family homes, the mobile homes and the RVs on the island that just got completely destroyed. Families lost everything," said Task Force Leader Brian Sullivan.
He led the team on their search and rescue mission through Charlotte County, Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island.
They worked off a missing persons list and recovered people who didn’t make it through the storm. He said they also spend time helping get survivors off the island since there was hardly anything left.
"This group is easy to lead. They know their jobs very well, and they’re eager to do them," said Sullivan.
Shawn Hall was in the second group of 35 people to travel to Florida.
"Houses flipped over totally destroyed, washed off their foundations. You could tell where the water had washed inward, you know, 10 to 12-foot storm surge and just piled all the debris up in one area," Hall said.
He said he was blown away by the communities they searched.
"It's unbelievable how the Floridians were coming together and helping each other out and helping us out. It's very humbling to be down there to help those people out and to be a part of that recovery and rebuilding."
It wasn't just men and women who traveled to Florida to help, it was also search and rescue dogs, like Manion.
"He did great. You cannot replicate the type of stuff that we were doing down there in training. You can’t flip a house upside down, fill it with water, drain it, and send your dog in to go search," Hall said. "For them to do that was amazing to see the training that went into training those dogs coming to the surface. It was amazing."
On Monday afternoon, the team returned to the Virginia Beach Fire Training Center and reunited with their friends and families.
"It feels really good to be home with family who supported me," said Hall, as he stood with his wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and niece.
"I've had tears in my eyes since the trucks rolled in," Hall's mother-in-law Fran said.
Shawn’s wife, Lacey, said she’s so proud of him and the rest of the team.
"They are the best. They take care of each other and they’re doing something to help others," she said.
Sullivan said it’s been a long, but rewarding couple of weeks.
"It feels really good to be home. I’m very proud of this team," he said.
He said after a brief rest period to spend time with their families, it’s time to prepare for the next time disaster strikes. They’ll go through all their equipment, replace or fix whatever they need to, and jump right back into training.
At the end of every conversation 13News Now has had with Sullivan since they've been in Florida, he thanked everyone back home here in Hampton Roads for their support. On Monday, he said knowing they had that support the whole time they were there made a big impact.
"It helped the guys out there knowing things were getting taken care of and that people were thinking about them," Sullivan said.