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Firefighters use special skills to pull man from collapsed Cedar Hills trench

Man hospitalized after more than two hours trapped under piles of mud and dirt


by: VALLEY TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Crews from Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and Portland Fire & Rescue helped free a man trapped Monday morning when a 15-foot trench collapsed in the Cedar Hills area.What started Monday morning a sewer line repair project at a Cedar Hills home turned into a life-and-death situation for Apollo Excavating employees when a narrow, 14-foot-deep trench surrounding the pipe collapsed and buried a worker up to his head under layers of mud and dirt for more than two hours.

Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue crews pulled the trapped worker from the narrow trench in the front yard of 12715 S.W. Bowmont St. around 2:30 p.m.

The man was transported to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland. His name and medical condition were not released. Two of the man's co-workers at Apollo Excavation, who were also in the trench but escaped during the collapse, were not hospitalized.

Gebbie Leonard, who hired the business to repair a broken sewer line from his house to the main pipe under Bowmont Street, was home at about 11 a.m. March 3 when one of the Apollo crew asked him to call 911.

"I ran back in the house, grabbed the phone and called for help," Leonard said, noting he knew the trapped worker only as "Danny."

TVF&R's Beaverton Station 61 was the first unit to arrive on the scene at 11:04 a.m., said agency spokesman Chris Hamilton. TVF&R and Portland Fire & Rescue's technical rescue teams responded with trucks and an array of equipment. Clean Water Services and the cities of Beaverton and Portland provided vacuum trucks to remove earth from the trench and Washington County Sheriff's Office assisted with traffic control.

Two firefighter paramedics entered the trench to begin medical treatment to the trapped man, uncovering his face to help him breathe, while providing heated air and intravenous fluids. The man was alert and talking, Hamilton said. Dirt covering the man was estimated to weigh several hundred pounds.

Throughout the rescue, Dr. Raymond Moreno, medical director for TVF&R and Metro West Ambulance, directed the man's care at the scene and remained in contact with a Legacy Emanuel Medical Center trauma team.

Rescuers stabilized the collapsed trench with additional shoring, moving dirt by hand that was vacuumed out of the crevice.

"There were (wire) cages on the side of the trench for protection," Leonard said, indicating dirt beneath the caged area likely gave way. "I don't know what happened. It must've been wetter than it looked."

When rescuers dug deep enough, they discovered the trapped man positioned horizontally with both legs trapped in the dirt. With Portland Fire & Rescue's support, TVF&R rescuers pulled the man from the trench at 2:30 p.m. and helped him to an ambulance.

Mutual-aid response

The Apollo crew started on the pipe repair early last week, but on Friday discovered the trench would have to be enlarged.

"They said they'd have to do it on Monday," Leonard said.

Monday's rescue effort was an example of intergovernmental mutual-aid agreements in action, Hamilton noted. The agreements help ensure that those experiencing an emergency get necessary resources quickly, regardless of where they are.

"In addition to TVF&R's front-line, professional fire crews, we have also invested in specialty teams such as technical rescue, whose specialized skills and equipment can be used for structural collapses, confined space rescues, and high-angle rescues," Hamilton said. "They train weekly on complicated scenarios and participate with other agencies as part of an urban search and rescue unit."

Tom Houghton was one of several neighbors who gathered outside their homes to view the unfolding scene, which included more than a dozen emergency vehicles with flashing lights, television news crews and a hovering helicopter.

"I was talking to my daughter on the phone around 11:15," he said. "I heard a siren, then another and another. I told her, 'I better go now.' "