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Hole catches part of fire engine

Hedy Carton was walking her dog, Diesel, on Sunday night when a Largo Fire Rescue truck slowly rolled through the parking lot of her apartment complex.

The truck wasn't blaring its sirens, so she didn't think much - until she heard a thud.

Carton whipped around and saw the truck's back wheels suspended in the air.

"That's not the way a truck is supposed to stand," Carton, 32, thought to herself.

Thus began a four-hour ordeal, Largo Fire Rescue Chief Jeff Bullock said.

The engine responded to a call about 9 p.m. at the Autumn Chase apartments, which are just north of the city's Southwest Recreation Center. A man who was injured in an accident drove to the complex and needed medical care.

Rescue workers tended to the man, but Engine 39 ended up needing some help of its own. A couple of the truck's left wheels got lodged in a 3-foot-deep hole after a 5- by 6-foot portion of the asphalt lot collapsed beneath it.

The collapse's cause was being investigated. Bullock said a broken pipe may be the culprit.

Property manager Robert Cruz said at least two other holes opened up on the property after heavy rains early this month.

Largo Fire Rescue worked diligently with the city's Public Works Department to free the 50,000-pound fire truck gently, Bullock said.

Crews soon realized that pulling the $400,000 engine with a tow truck wasn't the answer. Instead, they filled the hole with gravel while slowly inflating rubber air bags, which were alternated from positions under the truck's wheels to beneath its frame. At 1 a.m. Monday, the engine was liberated.

Bullock said a reserve engine was brought in to the area to make sure public safety wasn't compromised.

"This was quite a training activity in vehicle recovery," Bullock said.

The truck was transported to the Public Works Department on a flatbed trailer, where it was undergoing a thorough inspection. So far, only an alarm that sounds when the truck backs up appeared damaged.

The incident drew quite a crowd at Autumn Chase, said resident Shelley Glowacki, 38.

- LORRI HELFAND, Times staff writer