Posted on Thu, Jun. 12, 2003

Worker freed from collapsed trench
BY ASHLEY FANTZ
afantz@herald.com




GETTING HELP: Fort Lauderdale rescue workers prepare to lift injured construction worker Daniel Figurora from a trench that caved in on him as he worked to lay a new sewer pipe. WFOR - CBS 4


After a massive, 90-minute rescue effort, a construction worker was freed from a muddy trench that collapsed on him Wednesday as he worked to lay a new sewer pipe in Fort Lauderdale.

Daniel Figurora suffered a broken ankle, and was taken by ambulance to Broward General Medical Center for treatment.

Figurora worked for Ameristar Group, a subcontractor of Miami-based Astaldi Construction, said Hector Castro, engineer for the city of Fort Lauderdale. Astaldi is under contract to complete water projects in Fort Lauderdale.

According to witnesses, including Figurora's co-workers, he was working inside a trench in the 800 block of Northwest Sixth Avenue about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday when mid-morning rain caused the trench to cave in, trapping him.

He tried to push the sand back, creating a vacuum that sucked him deeper into the four-foot-deep hole, eventually covering him waist-deep in wet sand, said Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief William Findlan.

''It was a bad situation, but he was never in any danger,'' Findlan said.

Within five minutes of receiving a 911 call from other construction workers on site, Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue dispatched 21 paramedics and rescue specialists. Fire-rescue water pumps sucked the water from the trench while a front-end loader dug a deeper hole nearby to help drain the water.

''The pumps and hole helped because for a while the mud would slide back into the trench, which just made our job harder,'' Findlan said.

Covered in mud and sweat, rescuers hooked up an intravenous line and separately administered nitrous oxide.

''He was in a great deal of pain, so we gave him something to ease that,'' Findlan said.

When Figurora was finally pulled from the hole and placed on a stretcher, cheers erupted among emergency workers and a crowd of onlookers.

''He wasn't saying a whole lot,'' said Shawn Levine, a fire-rescue paramedic who had been on the scene since the 911 dispatch. ``He looked like he was going to be all right, though.''

Tom McCormick, the program director of the Fort Lauderdale utility unit on the scene, said trench collapses are not unusual.

Astaldi stopped operations for the day, he added, to emphasize to its workers the importance of following safety rules while performing trench work.

''We make sure everyone knows the rules and are quick to respond if things look dangerous,'' he said.

McCormick said he is unsure whether there was anything specific Figurora could have done to avoid getting trapped.

Bobby Day, who was working with Figurora and saw the incident, said it's part of his job to fear this kind of accident. ''You wake up every morning and hope that it doesn't happen and then it happens,'' he said. ``It was bad. When you come in you've got to think, safety first. Always.''