SEAFORD, DE – Multiple rescue agencies from across Sussex County successfully freed a 38-year-old construction worker from a collapsed trench Friday morning after delicately working nearly two hours in muddy, cold soil to stabilize the scene and pull the man to safety.
Emergency crews were dispatched to the 400 block of Plantation Drive in the Governor’s Grant subdivision in Seaford at approximately 10:45 a.m. Friday for a reported trench rescue. The victim was part of a crew working on underground utilities outside a house under construction in the subdivision off Atlanta Road.
Once on scene, emergency responders found the male victim on his knees, waist deep in several feet of sand and dirt that had collapsed around him in an 8-foot-deep hole. According to witnesses, the worker, at one point, had been covered up to his chest. However, the actions of quick-thinking co-workers, and the victim himself, to dig away some of the soil helped relieve pressure on the victim’s chest, keeping him conscious and alert.
Emergency crews spent nearly two hours stabilizing the trench to prevent further collapse, and then dug by hand, shovel and using a sewer vacuum truck to safely remove the remaining soil so the victim could be extricated.
“This was a fortunate outcome given the circumstances and how dangerous and deadly trench rescues can be,” said Seaford Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Matt Read. “This operation ran as smoothly as possible. We were definitely lucky to have some trained staffed in our station who have experience with technical rescue. They were here very quickly.”
The worker was transported by ambulance to Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford, where he was in guarded condition and being treated for possible back and neck injuries, as well as a possible collapsed lung.
Seaford fire officials said the fact some of the soil was removed from around the man’s chest probably improved his chances of survival. “Anytime you get that amount of soil on someone’s chest, that’s like 1,000 pounds of pressure per cubic foot,” said Seaford Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Jack Wilson. “That’s important, especially when the soil rushes in so quickly. It can knock you pretty hard and just hold you.”
The cold weather, as well as the wet soil, posed an increased risk to the victim and the emergency crews who worked to free him. During the rescue, crews used a heater and placed blankets and heat packs on the victim to keep hypothermia from setting in.
The accident is being investigated jointly by the Seaford Police Department and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
More than 50 first responders from across Sussex County responded to the incident. Units from the Sussex County Technical Rescue Team, Blades, Bridgeville and Seaford volunteer fire companies, Seaford Police, Delaware State Police, Sussex County Emergency Medical Services, Sussex County Emergency Operations, and Sussex County Environmental Services division responded.