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Rescue teams free construction worker in Clearwater after cave-in traps him 6 feet down

CLEARWATER — After spending three hours buried in muck up to his hips, a construction worker was safely lifted out of a hole where he was trapped by a soil collapse Tuesday morning.

The 57-year-old man, who was not identified by authorities, was working on a city stormwater management project being completed by private contractor Caladesi Construction of Largo when he became trapped about 6 feet below ground level.

Rescue crews arrived on the scene at the end of Jeffords Street, just west of Lake Avenue, but as they struggled to dig the man out, the muddy soil continued to fill in the hole. A harness was attached to the man and firefighters entered the hole to dig beneath him.

The trapped man, a Caladesi employee, was alert and able to communicate with emergency personnel when they arrived. He was given oxygen and his blood pressure was monitored throughout the ordeal.

The Pinellas County Technical Rescue Team, consisting of about 35 rescue personnel from the cities of Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Largo and Pinellas Park, was brought in to perform the rescue operation.

"The emergency workers on the team go through specific training to handle a complicated collapse like this,'' said Clearwater fire Chief Robert Weiss.

The team built a wooden box around the man to reduce the amount of mud that could seep into the hole. Several large vacuums were used to remove the muck.

One big challenge for rescuers was the extreme heat. Emergency personnel worked in shifts in the hot sun, according to Clearwater Assistant Fire Chief Marvin Pettingill, who was the incident commander.

After three hours, the man was finally freed, lifted onto a stretcher and taken to a hospital for evaluation. According to Clearwater public safety spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts, the man received no additional injuries from the cave-in.

Pettingill said he wasn't surprised the rescue took a few hours.

"Something like this is a complicated effort,'' he said.

Officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will investigate to determine if the project was being properly managed by the contractor.

Ditch collapses can create serious or even fatal injuries.

In May 2005, a worker installing sewer lines in a 15-foot-deep trench in Pinellas Park died of cardiac arrest after one wall of the trench collapsed in on him, breaking his ribs and pelvis. It took three hours to extract his body from the trench.

The company he worked for was fined more than $20,000 for failing to properly secure the walls of the trench.

Staff writer Michael Finch II contributed to this report. Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or pcastillo@tampabay.com.

Rescue teams free construction worker in Clearwater after cave-in traps him 6 feet down 08/14/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 8:02pm]
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