ST. GEORGE — A man was rescued Monday evening after a trench wall collapsed on him at a construction site in downtown St. George.
Emergency personnel were dispatched to the incident at approximately 4:30 p.m. involving a 42-year-old man trapped in a thick layer of dirt at the construction site of the forthcoming Joule Plaza south of Tabernacle Street between 200 West and 300 West.
“He was buried up to his mid-chest,” St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said. “When our crews got on scene the coworkers had removed most of the dirt around his chest.”
The man was having trouble breathing but was conscious and alert when responders arrived.
“Sounds like the soil was damp or fairly wet,” Stoker said. “So when it collapsed, it trapped him pretty tight.”
St. George Fire Department crews immediately went about stabilizing the collapsed trench using panels and struts in order to ensure a safe working space for responders.
When it was stabilized, crews worked quickly to remove the dirt around the man’s chest.
“Their main concern was his difficulty breathing,” Stoker said. “Once the soil was removed from around his chest, he was doing a lot better with his respiratory.”
Over the course of a little more than an hour, firemen carefully dug the man out of the dirt. Medical responders from Gold Cross Ambulance remained on scene for the duration of the rescue monitoring the patient.
While the man had no immediately obvious injuries, Stoker explained that the weight of the dampened soil and the resulting compression to soft tissue could lead to “crush syndrome,” in which serious tissue damage can occur.
Once freed from the dirt, the man was transported by ambulance to Dixie Regional Medical Center for further evaluation and treatment.
While the exact circumstances of what led to the collapse of the trench are still under investigation, Stoker said the man may have been working on building a retaining wall within the 6-8 foot deep trench when it fell in on him.
“Right now, I’m not aware if any safety devices were being used or if they were not – trench boxes, et cetera — that’s part of the investigation that we’ll do,” Stoker said. “It will be up to the company to contact OSHA.”
Whatever the case, Stoker said the man is fortunate to have escaped the incident alive.
“These can go fatal or involve critical, serious injuries,” he said. “So to have him in the condition that he’s in, it should be a good outcome.”
The man’s rescue was completed relatively swiftly thanks to extensive training fire department crews undergo for this exact scenario.
In conjunction with St. George City Streets crews who assisted at Monday’s scene, firemen train at a minimum annually for trench rescues. Some fire department personnel are even trained specifically to be trench technicians.
“This is one of those technical rescues that we do run into from time to time, but we make sure we train on this regularly,” Stoker said.
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