Man rescued from trench collapse in Brentwood


February 2, 2012 12:30:29 AM PST
An East Bay man was trapped in a trench for more than three hours Wednesday night. Rescuers were able to pull him out injured, but alive.

He was buried up to his neck, but at least he could breathe. That is basically the only reason he survived after hours trapped by the dirt. Rescuers worked as fast as they could to dig him out. It all happened in Brentwood on Dawnview Drive.

It was a pretty dramatic scene in the neighborhood. Around 9 p.m. the front yard of a house was buzzing with firefighters and the neighbors had gathered three deep just to watch the rescue. It all ended with a cheering crowd and man happy to be alive.

After more than three hours of constant digging, rescue crews pulled the man from the collapsed trench that almost became his grave.

"The danger to this is you have all the weight of this dirt. The dirt out here is kind of a heavy, muddy clay, so it's not real light and fluffy sand like from a beach or something. It's some pretty heavy dirt," said East Contra Costa Fire Chief Hugh Henderson.

Firefighters say the 50-year-old man from Oakland dug a trench 10 feet deep while working on a residential sewer line. It was about 12 feet long and 30 inches wide, but it doesn't appear he had a shoring device to secure the walls of the trench. Around 5:30 p.m. the damp earth collapsed around him. He was burred chest high and the temperature outside was dropping.

"The other concern is the hypothermia of him getting cold because he's got the cold mud around him, so we're worried about his core temperature of his body also dropping," said Henderson.

Rescue workers began digging bucket by bucket, while monitoring his vital signs. They used the neighbor's plywood to shore up the trench. All the while, a crowd of neighbors gathered to watch the drama unfold. A next door neighbor says the man was working on his friend's sewage line and that several residents have had similar problems in the past.

"I can tell you that the trees in front some of our houses, we had to cut them down about four years ago because the roots were growing out towards the pipes, underneath the sidewalk, into our front yards," said Scott Mullen, a neighbor.

Firefighters say the man was talking before he was airlifted to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. His head was below ground level when the trench collapsed, so he was extremely lucky his head stayed above the dirt and he was able to breathe the whole time. A local contractor who works on sewage lines told ABC7 that Cal/OSHA definitely requires a shoring device when digging a trench this deep.