Within hours of the catastrophic collapse of a newly constructed pedestrian bridge on March 15 on the campus of Florida International University in Miami which killed six people and injured eight others, a Salvation Army disaster services team began serving first responders.
“As soon as we arrived on scene we were being asked for water and meals,” said Captain Enrique Azuaje, a Central Territory officer who currently serves as Miami-Dade area commander.
For the next three days The Salvation Army stood vigil with continuous service day and night during the grueling rescue and recovery operation. Given the cordoned-off perimeter with intense security, the relief service was given by six officers, as well as one employee and volunteer, with excellent logistical support by the entire Miami-Dade Command staff.
From two canteens from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, more than 2,800 meals and snacks were provided to responders, including firemen, policemen and members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
According to the captain, the emotional care they gave was as critical as the physical nourishment. “We intentionally sought to bring hope and thank them for their hard work,” he said. “We see those who respond on the frontlines as strong—and they are—but they are also vulnerable and need encouragement in these very difficult circumstances.”
Responders not only thanked individual Salvation Army team members, but the Miami-Dade Police Department publicly expressed gratitude for the organization’s service via Facebook.
Since being appointed to Miami in 2016, Captain Azuaje has participated in several major disaster relief efforts, including giving service in the wake of Hurricane Irma in August 2017 and being deployed as a critical incident stress management specialist in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting this past February.
The captain cited his faith and Christ’s example as what helps him in these dire situations. He concluded, “We must work hard but never forget that we’re taking care of people. There’s a tremendous joy that comes with that.”
The Miami-Dade Area Command has been working on an Emergency Disaster Incident Command and Training Center which will open soon.