Technical Rescue: Mud, Sweat and Cheers

New York City has one of the oldest subway systems in the world. By miles of track and numbers of stations, it is the world’s largest. But even at that, the mass transit needs of the city are greater still.NThe need for another subway line in...


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As additional technical rescue help was called to the scene, several 36-volt Sawzalls were brought down and attempts to cut the plywood proved futile as the wet clay slowed the cutting and gummed up the saws. A grip hoist was placed in position and using a J-hook, members tried to pull or lift the plywood. The suction power of the wet clay could not be overcome and the hook eventually broke off small pieces of the wood. (This would eventually prove to be the way to remove the plywood – small piece after small piece.)

Battalion Chief Donald Hayde from Special Operations Command (SOC) arrived and was placed in direct charge rescue efforts directly in the trench. The 36-year veteran took in the scene around him: his firefighters were faced with sheets of wood covered by a cold, slippery slurry of wet clay-like mud that was acting like quicksand and almost impossible to move due to the suction. Rescuers were getting stuck left and right as they used hand tools to dig in the immediate area, Stanley pumps were being operated in a dewatering effort and the grip hoist was being set and reset, pulling away sections of the embedded plywood. With the operation taking longer than expected, it was decided to have a rescue-trained paramedic enter the trench and evaluate the worker’s condition.

An FDNY paramedic moved in and evaluated his patient’s condition. The worker was actually in remarkable condition, except for the cold. The paramedic was able to run an IV and after the worker’s torso was completely cleared, warm blankets were applied to stabilize his temperature. As part of his assessment the paramedic found out the worker was a Dallas Cowboys football fan. This initiated an ongoing “friendly” dialogue from the care-giving New York Giants fan. An EMS doctor also examined the trapped worker and monitored his vitals.

Other units join operation

On the street above, three rescue companies and three squad companies had joined in the effort, along with several other specialized units. The SOC Air Compressor Unit was positioned and supplied the correct pressure to the SOC air knife. Three sump pumps were in operation. The Con Edison vacuum truck was positioned and despite the great distance was able to remove some of the mud and water. The first grip hoist became clogged with mud and was placed out of service. A second grip hoist was repositioned with a better directional pull and this operation continued. Various SOC members rotated in and out of digging positions, trying to keep fresh hands at work.

A heavy equipment operator joined in and following the directions of the rescue leader dug a trench adjacent to the trapped worker to help drain the soil. After three hours of backbreaking trial and error, and learning how to overcome the extreme difficulties of the mud slurry, the rescuers were finally making good headway. When enough plywood was peeled away and digging by hand exposed the worker’s leg, a Prusik cord was girthed around his leg just above the knee and the final removal of the entrapped leg was accomplished.

The worker was medically re-evaluated, then secured in a Stokes basket and hoisted toward the street in a construction basket, where a wave of camera flashes ignited and live news cameras caught the action. On both sides of Second Avenue, crowds of construction workers, neighborhood residents and other interested New Yorkers broke into cheers when a muddy, but conscious Joseph Barone emerged relatively uninjured and was rolled to a waiting ambulance.

More than 150 firefighters and other rescue workers were needed to accomplish this very unusual four-hour-long rescue. Several firefighters were injured and were also taken to the hospital with minor injuries. The FDNY SOC returned several days later to confer with the construction company representatives and engineers. Large samples of the mud were taken to the FDNY SOC Technical Rescue School at Randall’s Island for testing and evaluation. They hope to find the better methods of dealing with this dangerous “mud” in any future rescue operations. n