Trench Rescue in Spring Arbor

On Friday October 19, 2012 the Spring Arbor Fire Department (Michigan) was called to the campus of Spring Arbor University for a man trapped in a trench cave in.  Upon arrival, members of Spring Arbor Rescue #1, assessed the scene as one person buried to his chest in trench that was twelve feet deep.  The victim was conscious and trying to dig himself out with the help of his coworkers.  The Spring Arbor Fire Department requested a trench rescue team from the nearby Summit Fire Department.  Summit is a member of the Michigan Regional USAR Response System.

Hearing the call from home was Summit Fire Departments’ Lieutenant Scott Stoker who resides in Spring Arbor.  The off duty Lieutenant recognized that the incident was only a few blocks away and responded from his home.  Upon arrival he noted numerous workers and firefighters in the trench digging the victim out.  Obvious hazards included the extremely unstable soil conditions, exposed utilities and unsupported concrete slabs hanging over the rescue area.  Stoker’s immediate concern was to remove the firefighters and workers from the trench.  After some convincing he was able accomplish that as the victim continued to dig.   Continuing on with site control (Initial Actions) Stoker had a ladder placed into the trench and eliminated vibrations by having all heavy equipment shut down.  Heavy equipment included two excavators which were running at the lip of the trench.

When the members of the Summit Fire Department trench rescue team arrived they placed ground pads and took measurements for primary shoring operations.  At that time the victim freed himself from the collapsed soil.   He had injuries to both legs and was unable to climb the ladder to escape from the trench.   The focus of the tactical operations quickly changed from shoring to non-entry rescue.  Rescuers re-positioned the ladder (already in the trench) so the victim could support his body and hold onto a rung with both hands.  From a safe area on the trench lip (ground pads) rescuers were able to utilize a “moving ladder slide” technique to extricate the victim from the trench.  Within minutes of extricating the patient from the trench a second cave in occurred.

The patient was treated on the scene and transported to Allegiance Hospital in Jackson (Michigan).  He was treated for a fractured lower leg and is expected to return to work following a rehabilitation period.

The Spring Arbor Trench Rescue is a clear example of the” best” of all rescue opportunities (Non-entry Rescue).  The fact that the stage was set for a successful non-entry rescue was a tribute to good training and command presence.  Gaining control of the scene eliminated the potential for additional victims.  Site control (ground pads and stopping vibrations) improved the window of opportunity for rescue by postponing the secondary collapse.

submitted by

Aaron Osburn
Summit Fire Department


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