North Dakota Crews Rescue Two Construction Workers

Two workers were freed after spending three hours trapped in a collapsed trench at an East Grand Forks construction site.

The accident occurred at the scene of a Demers Avenue construction site for a new PRACS Institute building, near the existing PRACS and MeritCare Clinic.

Shortly after 1 p.m., emergency workers from East Grand Forks and Grand Forks freed the remaining trapped man and extricated him from the trench. He placed him on a stretcher and brought to an awaiting ambulance.

"At the end, there was a smile that came from the last victim out, which meant a lot to the family ... . Hopefully, all will be well," East Grand Forks fire chief Frank Ringstad said moments later.

About 12:40 p.m., emergency workers removed the first of the trapped men. The worker's brother was there, and the two spoke as he was being placed on a stretcher and put into an ambulance.

The construction workers were taken to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks, where their conditions were unavailable at this writing. Emergency workers received a call for help about 9:40 a.m.

Ringstad said the two construction workers, both men, working with a protective trench box were trapped in a trench that collapsed around them. They were working on a section of 10-inch sewer pipe about 14 to 15 feet below surface.

"It's unclear what they were doing at the time, whether they were coming out of the hole or going into the hole. All of those things will be talked about," Ringstad said.

The East Grand Forks fire chief said the trapped construction workers had an air pocket created by the trench box. Emergency workers have been able to keep in contact with them, supply additional oxygen with hoses dropped through a pipe placed at the scene and also provide some other limited medical attention.

Emergency workers used plywood to help build earthen retention walls and large construction equipment to assist with the rescue effort, including several earthen vacuum trucks, a forklift, backhoes and crane. "It was a very intense operation down there in very confined space ... . You have more to consider than just the victims in this. There's a whole range of things that can happen in an unstable" accident site, Ringstad said.

As a precaution, Xcel Energy crews were called in to shut off a natural gas line at the scene.

The on-site construction crew and construction workers at an unrelated site nearby also assisted.

"I can't say enough about all the people who helped out today," Ringstad said. "It was an extremely well-run operation." Family members came to the scene, and police provided crowd and traffic control as the rescue unfolded.

The names of the men involved in the trench collapse so far have not been made public. "We're going to take a break here and get everybody together and set up a debriefing on it, and on how this situation went," Ringstad said. "We're going to secure the site. It's obviously a construction accident. There's going to have to be an investigation that takes place."

A Grand Forks firefighter working at the trench site left shortly after noon apparently suffering from dehydration, Ringstad said. The firefighter was treated at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks and was to be released, according to Grand Forks fire battalion chief Rod Hadland.