Deputy fire chief explains complications of Oakland rescue

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To rescue a worker who fell in a 17-foot trench, fire crews in Oakland had to work slowly over 13 hours to free him. (KGO-TV)

A trapped plumber was freed after being stuck underground for 13 hours. Sky 7 HD was over the scene at 3 p.m. Tuesday, two hours after the ordeal began. At about 4 p.m. it looked like he was going to get out.

Then, at 11 p.m., an Oakland firefighter coming out of the sewer seemed to signal they were getting close, but it wasn't until 2 a.m. when the ordeal ended. The man is recovering at Highland Hospital in Oakland.

VIDEO: Man trapped in trench speaks about his ordeal

Previously, Cal/OSHA cited the company for failing to protect a trench from cave-ins. Now the agency is investigating this latest accident.

Star Rooter employee Rogelio Esparza's rescue from a 17-foot-deep trench is being described as a "game of inches." His boss was at the scene all 13 hours and was at his bedside Wednesday morning.

"He's so happy. Thank you Fire Department, thank you city of Oakland, thank you Oakland Police Department and everybody who helped him get out," said Juan Coronado, the victim's boss.

Esparza was working on a home sewer line in East Oakland when the hole fell in on him, trapping him in dirt up to his chest. Firefighters say his feet were 17 feet from the surface. Even firefighters felt frustrated with how long it was taking, but they say they were working in sand, which kept caving in on them when they pulled.

Esparza's boss said they felt terrible as they watched the slow process. Coronado said Esparza was also wondering why it was taking so long.

"He was a little bit worried about it because it was taking a long time, he felt very dizzy. He is so happy right now," said Coronado.

VIDEO: Worker recovering after being trapped in sewer line in Oakland

Oakland Fire Dep. Chief Mark Hoffmann explained, "It was extremely tedious and it was a game of inches, is how one of the company officers defined it. That's dead on, you would pick up an inch of material and two inches would sluff in and then you would be digging that out and we were just burning out rescue workers and it got near the end it was, 'OK, you have been in the hole twice, you have been in the hole twice.' He was much lower than a typical excavation project."

Hoffmann says it appears Esparza was initially only 6-8 feet down, but the bottom gave out.

"He just fell in and all the plywood and cribbing or bracing material they had in the hole with him just went in and that was what was pinning him," Hoffmann said.

That is the reason Hoffmann says the rescue took so long.

Esparza is in good condition. Coronado said they are hoping he can come home Thursday. They are waiting to hear the final word from the doctor.

His wife and two kids live in Los Angeles and are making their way up to Oakland. Coronado says he thinks Esparza will feel much better when his family gets to the hospital. Coronado said Esparza, who has been with the company for six years, wants to go back to work.

According to the Cal/OSHA website, Star Rooter's last serious documented accident was September 23, 2014. There have been five complaints between August 13, 2007 - October 21, 2014, all of which resulted in OSHA identifying five serious violations and 15 other violations.

One of those serious violations happened on August 8, 2013. OSHA cited Star Rooter for failing to ensure a 10-foot-deep trench was protected by cave-ins by an adequate protective system. OSHA says it is investigating this latest accident.

Related Topics:
rescuepoliceOPDfirefightersconstruction accidentsewerOaklandEast Oakland
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