Larry Collins analyzed a 1999 trench rescue and other technical rescue incidents along with lessons learned during his Tuesday afternoon FDIC 2013 workshop, "Managing Rescue Operations." A battalion chief with the Los Angeles County (CA) Fire Department, Collins has presented at FDIC for more than 20 years. At a 35-foot deep excavation being dug for a pipeline, the ground collapsed and a worker was buried; only his helmet and one hand was visible. The victim had attempted to cover his face with his helmet, but ultimately the helmet ended up above his head with layer of dirt in between. At such a scene, Collins said, first responder considerations include size-up, stabilization of the trench and creating an exclusion zone for personnel to avoid compromising the soil stability and provoking a secondary collapse.
At this scene, numerous concerns needed to be considered. The soil was wet from recent rains, and more rain was expected in the near future. The patient was thus in danger of hypothermia, and the site would need to be sheltered if more rain came before the rescue was completed. Additionally, there was a commuter railroad 100 feet away that Collins had thought had been shut down because of the incident to avoid vibrations that might provoke a secondary collapse. Nonetheless, a commuter train passed by during the incident, but caused no adverse effects. The victim was able to communicate with rescuers using his fingers to indicate yes or no. Responders attempted to aerate the soil around the victim to prevent asphyxiation. Ultimately, he was rescued using rope rigging and hydro vacuum truck to help remove the dirt.
Collins said this incident demonstrated the value of urban search and rescue training/awareness as well as the value of using specialized equipment. The hydo vacuum truck used cut the time needed to remove soil from around the victim in half. He recommended preparing for such an event by finding and developing a relationship with relevant technical experts such as soil engineers and those who can supply specialized equipment. Also, call OSHA officials to a rescue scene to provide advice, ensure compliance with the relevant regulations, and ensure safety for the victim and responders. This is key if questions are raised in the future about responders' actions in the future.