Training, teamwork crucial in trench rescues

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The owner of Bedell Plumbing says the 41-year-old employee who became trapped in a trench Monday is currently resting at home.

It took firefighters over three hours to free the man, who was conscious and alert when he was finally freed from the 14-foot trench. The crew was digging a sewer line in Carmel when the collapse occurred, trapping the worker in falling dirt and debris.

A check of IOSHA records shows no prior violations or complaints within the past five years with Bedell Plumbing based in Greenfield.

Although the worker was stuck only waist deep, the rescue took over three hours and required help from five different fire departments, who brought in specialized equipment.

"The guy was talking, he was alert, so that was a good, positive sign. I felt very confident that we'd have a successful outcome," said Jeremiah Monroe, a Noblesville Fire Department firefighter who assisted in the rescue Monday.

Firefighters say the plumbing crew attempted to dig another trench to free the man themselves, but they eventually called 911 for help. The second trench posed problems for fire crews, who had to stabilize the trench before attempting to get the man out.

"That kind of made it a little more difficult as far as making the lift a little more unsafe," said Monroe.

During the height of the rescue, firefighters were also concerned about passing traffic. They detoured cars to prevent vibrations in the ground that could have caused more dirt to collapse.

In training, preventing collapses is the first priority, so building the rescue walls inside the trench is calculated from start to finish.

"Hurry up as fast as you can but in a safe manner. We know we need to hurry. But we have to do everything step by step," said Joe Bookwalter, Fishers Fire Department.

At a Tuesday training session in Fishers, the breakdown was just as methodical as the set-up. Everyone wears a safety helmet, and teamwork plays a huge role.

"Teamwork is very important because this cannot be done by one person. You are only allowed to spend eight minutes in the hole at a time so we rotate people in and out," said Bookwalter.

Although trench rescues can take hours, once the victim is out safely, that's when firefighters say they know their training has paid off.

"You can take a step, you can breathe and kind of relax," said Monroe.

Meantime, an IOSHA representative stressed they do want to know how and why the trench accident happened.