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Video: Pa. crews rescue 2 men from collapsed trench in 8 hours

The trench did not have shoring in place to prevent a collapse, Allentown Fire Capt. John Christopher said


Photo/City of Allentown

UPDATE (10:05 a.m. CT, Jan. 12):

By Molly Bilinski
The Morning Call

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — When firefighters got to a collapsed trench Wednesday afternoon in the backyard of an Allentown home, a man’s head and chin were sticking out of the dirt.

His body, from the neck down, was covered.

“We didn’t know where his arms and legs were,” city fire Capt. John Christopher said. “You can’t even use a shovel at that point. You don’t know what you’re digging into.”

It took about eight hours for firefighters and emergency crews from across the Lehigh Valley and beyond to save the man after the trench collapsed, burying the majority of his body. Officials have not released the names of the two men saved, but said the incident was caused by a failure to follow proper safety procedures.

“Anytime you’re going below grade, it’s very dangerous,” Christopher said, confirming that there was no shoring in place in the trench to protect from collapses. “It’s just an open trench.”

Officials said the two men were completing sewer work on the property. The Morning Call has reached out to city officials, asking if there was a work permit approved by the city, what work was to be completed and what happens now that the trench collapsed.

Just after 2 p.m., firefighters responded to a home in the 1500 block of Gordon Street, Christopher said. There, they found two men trapped in a collapsed trench.

The trench was 11 ½ feet deep, Christopher said. The collapse filled in part of the trench, and one man was saved after firefighters lowered a ladder more than 5 feet down.

In order to get the other man out, firefighters first had to make sure the trench was safe.

“Physical contact took about an hour,” Christopher said. “It was about three o’clock because we had to get our shoring in place before we put any of our guys down there.”

Much of the digging was done by hand, he said, as firefighters didn’t know the position of the man’s body under the soil. Crews worked in teams of two, rotating out each hour to ward off exhaustion.

Mutual aid from Lehigh County, Scranton and Bucks County also responded to help.

Kevin Krotzer, Lehigh County’s special operations coordinator, said county crews were dispatched almost immediately, adding “we weren’t very far behind Allentown.”

“We had trench shoring,” Krotzer said. “We have a large trailer, two large trucks that all have specialized trench equipment and warmers. And then with that medical component, we also have doctors on the team and special medical care that we can bring to the patient in the trench that we’re working on.”

About 4:30 p.m., Scranton’s superintendent of fire and emergency management coordinator Chief John J. Judge IV got the call requesting mutual aid.

“They didn’t need equipment,” Judge said. “They just needed technicians who are trained in trench rescues. We launched five of our technicians down and I think they got down there about a quarter after six.”

Scranton firefighters worked alongside city crews to dig the man out.

“There should have been some shoring. Anytime you’re working in a trench,” Christopher said. “That’s what took us so long.”

Then, Jacque Creamer had an idea.

Creamer, a retired UGI employee, was part of the response team who assisted at this incident, UGI spokesperson Joseph Swope said. He knew about the company’s vacuum truck, which is generally used to dig or clean out a trench of soil or other debris.

“One of our contractors, Miller Pipeline, has a vacuum truck that has greater capabilities than UGI’s vacuum truck in the Lehigh area,” Swope said. “UGI contacted Miller, who indicated their willingness to assist. A UGI supervisor accompanied a Miller crew with the Miller vacuum truck to clear out the trench as much as possible.”

That vacuum truck helped clear debris, and just after 10:15 p.m. the man was freed from the trench and transported to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest.

“It was amazing have UGI’s help,” Krotzer said.

No firefighters were injured during the eight-hour rescue, but many were left extremely tired.

“Mild exhaustion — everyone was spent,” Krotzer said. “It’s a hard, hard job trying to hand dig somebody out. Everybody was tired.”

Mutual aid, especially specialized resources and equipment worked to help resolve the incident, officials said.

“Being able to share those resources between municipalities when something happens like this is important,” Judge said. " … We’re glad to assist because we know if we have something we know that they’ll be sending assets and resources as well.

“And that really, really helps in incidents like this so that we can have a positive outcome.”

©2023 The Morning Call.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


By Evan Jones
The Morning Call

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Two men were caught in a trench collapse Wednesday in Allentown. First responders needed more than eight hours to complete the rescue.

Allentown fire Capt. John Christopher said the men were in a trench in the backyard of a house on the 1500 block of Gordon Street that was between 8 to 10 feet deep. Crews were called to the scene just before 2 p.m.

The first victim was able to climb out when firefighters lowered a ladder. The second was buried up to his chin, and crews were finally able to pull him out around 10:18 p.m., city officials said.

Christopher said the second man was conscious and was talking to his rescuers while they were digging him out.

He was taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest accompanied by family, officials said.

Shortly before he was pulled out of the trench, the man’s wife told him she was pregnant with their first child, according to a post on the city’s Facebook page.

Besides the city fire department and EMS, a Lehigh County technical rescue team took part in the operation. Allentown’s Facebook page noted that the Scranton technical rescue team was assisting, while another from Bucks County was standing by. UGI also sent a crew to help with excavation.

©2023 The Morning Call.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.