1. #1
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    Sep 2002

    Default Close Call for Rescuers in Trench Collapse

    This incident occurred north of Toronto last night.

    From the Toronto Star:

    Rescuers watch buried man go under


    A Richmond Hill man was buried alive in his front yard despite frantic rescue attempts from ambulance and fire crews last night and into the early morning.
    Lorenzo Pilagatti, 40, was digging a trench about 3.7 metres (12 feet) deep in front of his home on Elgin Mills Rd., west of Yonge St., with a small bulldozer in a bid to hook up to the town sewers.

    He got out and went into the ditch to work by hand when the walls caved in on him at about 8:30 p.m.

    Pilagatti was buried up to his neck when rescue crews arrived to help dig him out. However, at 1 a.m. this morning, the walls gave in again and completely buried him.

    "Itís such a tragedy," said York Regional police constable Kim Killby.

    "They were communicating with him and everything appeared to going okay and all of sudden it just happened all over again."

    By the time of the second collapse, Killby said rescuers had dug several feet of mud away from Pilagatti. "They were thinking they were probably pretty close to saving him," she said

    "Itís just an awful, awful thing for them, to have spent this amount of time trying to save his life and watch this happen before their eyes."

    Killby did not know what measures Pilagatti took to brace up the sides of the trench - if any - and could not comment on steps taken by rescuers to prevent the second collapse.

    Killby was unsure what caused the collapse, but said the wet, snowy weather may have contributed.

    "It was a miserable night," she said.

    To recover his body, emergency crews finally had to use a backhoe to dig a wide hole around the cave-in.

    Rescue crews freed the body at 8:45 a.m. this morning.

  2. #2
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    Sep 2002

    Default Follow-up Article

    From the Toronto Star:

    Trench collapse kills father
    Dies moments from rescue
    Family, firefighters devastated


    Horrified firefighters watched helplessly as the Richmond Hill father they'd desperately struggled to pull from a deep muddy trench suddenly disappeared under an avalanche of muck and was buried alive early yesterday.

    Lorenzo Pilagatti, 40, was just seconds from rescue, close to the tidy Elgin Mills Rd. W. home where his wife and two young daughters were watching the frantic rescue efforts, when the trench he'd been digging collapsed the second time.

    By the time rescuers reached him, he was dead. His body was finally pulled out at 9 a.m.

    The rescue bid had begun at about 8:30 p.m. Monday, after Pilagatti became trapped up to his chest as the walls of the 3.6-metre hole he was digging with a backhoe ó it's unclear why ó collapsed.

    One firefighter described the mud as being "like quicksand." At about 1 a.m. the ooze collapsed again, this time completely covering Pilagatti.

    "Firefighters were in the process of digging him out, and they were positive they could get him out," Richmond Hill fire Chief Shane Baker said yesterday after Pilagatti's body was recovered. "It was a delicate, dangerous process. It took five hours, but firefighters actually got down to his shins. They were so close," the chief said.

    At the time, Pilagatti "was conscious and totally coherent," Baker said.

    They dug down to below his knees and tried to pull him out, but he told them his feet were caught on something, the chief said. "So firefighters dug deeper and found a shovel (lying) over his feet," he continued. "They pulled it out with a rope and tried to pull him up ... but he still didn't budge. One captain said it was like he was stuck in concrete."

    Baker said emergency crews who'd been monitoring conditions in the hole from above suddenly noticed "the earth moving" and immediately ordered firefighters out of the pit.

    Seconds later, Pilagatti, still stuck inside, was buried.

    "If they hadn't been called out when they were, we would have lost firefighters," the chief said.

    The 14 platoon members who had worked through the night to rescue the man were devastated, the chief said. "They're far too emotional to talk to the media. They're very, very upset."

    The platoon was to meet last night for a critical-incident debriefing, which Baker described as a "therapeutic process."

    According to Baker, there was no shoring in the trench when firefighters arrived.

    "It was a difficult situation," he said. Snow, mud, and cramped conditions in the narrow trench made the rescue effort even more treacherous.

    The firefighters laid a ladder across the hole and tied a rope to it, dropping it in. Pilagatti was able to free his arms and secure the rope under them.

    "We tied him to the ladder so he couldn't slip further down," Baker explained. Firefighters were also secured to ropes in the event they lost their footing and plunged deeper into the mud. As they dug, rescue workers shored up the walls with wood.

    "Firefighters put their lives at risk ó they were right down in the trench," Baker said. "It was a very risky and dangerous rescue. You never know what can happen in a rescue situation like this."

    A backup crew was called in about 11:30 p.m., bringing nine more rescuers, heaters and extra plywood and lumber to stabilize the hole. The fire department doesn't have the steel boxes used in the construction industry to shore up earthen walls, nor the equipment to transport them.

    An autopsy is to be done today. It's not known whether an inquest will be held.

    Neighbours like Mike Messere stood in front of the house in shocked silence yesterday. "I feel so bad for the family," Messere said, adding that Pilagatti loved to work on his home.

    "He spent a lot of time renovating and making the house look nice," he said, pointing to the off-white home with its dormers, little porch and black shutters. "Lorenzo was a very hard-working guy. This is a real tragedy."

    He said he heard a loud cracking noise about 1 a.m., which he believes was the sound of the wooden shoring snapping.

    Counsellors went to Father Henri Nouwen Catholic school, where Pilagatti's 8- and 11-year-old daughters attend, to speak with their classmates.

  3. #3
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    Apr 2003
    Panorama, British Columbia, Canada


    What a tragedy. The fact that they were so close to success only makes it harder to accept.

    I certainly don't want to criticize the efforts of these firefighters because I have little actual experience in these collapses, but I would really like to know why the shoring failed. My trainers in this area have always said that even a bad piece of wood or two failing should not cause a catastrophic failure like this.

    It makes me nervous when I see these stories because we have a lot of exposure for this type of accident in our area. We have one local utility crew that constantly works in deep unshored excavations, and it is my absolute worse case scenario out here.

    Any opinions from those with real experience with these accidents?
    Never argue with an Idiot. They drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience!


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