Feb. 19--Seconds after the dispatch call for a sinkhole rescue went out to Portland Fire Bureau crews, its technical rescue team was on the horn with advice for the Engine 9 ladder and Truck 25, both speeding to Southeast Portland Tuesday night.
A woman had tumbled down what appeared to be an old water well in the yard of her Richmond neighborhood home while looking for her dog shortly after 7:20 p.m.
"They said, 'Here's what you're going to need to know even before you approach the patient,'" said Lt. Rich Chatman, fire bureau spokesman and a veteran of the urban search and rescue team.
The first arriving firefighters in the 2700-block of Southeast 38th Avenue needed ground pads, so they can approach the hole without collapsing its walls, and an air monitor, to determine whether the victim has adequate oxygen.
The disaster offered a perfect storm of two types of rescues that the technical team trains for: part trench rescue, part confined space rescue, Chatman said.
Confined space rescues, like an incident in January 2013, when Chatman helped reach and pull to safety a woman trapped for hours in a wall at the Gretchen Kafoury Commons, require close monitoring of air quality and moisture.
But complicating matters, the depth of the hole. Situated between two houses, it appeared partially bricked.
Another immediate worry, how to approach without caving it in? Chatman said the message was clear.
"Ground pad was placed on the ground before the hole so the pressure of the firefighter's feet -- and these are large people, over 6 feet tall, 200 pounds -- didn't cause the soil around the hole to fail."
Using a ladder, crews helped Kelly Ryan, a doctor at Oregon Health and Science University, climb to safety around 8 p.m.
Late Tuesday night, the victim's next door neighbor posted on Facebook saying she'd had recent sewer work done. "The city made us separate our party sewer line," wrote Teresa Hockman Holgate. "Seems all the snow//water has found its way to an old cistern and our yards are are sloughing away to nowhere..."
Some of the concrete retaining wall fell in as crews pulled her out, Holgate added in a Facebook comment.
A sewer connecting permit on Portland Maps confirm work was licensed on Jan. 24 and cleared inspection on Feb. 6 at both homes. Between Jan. 24 and the night the sinkhole appeared, meteorologists measured more than 5.23 inches of precipitation in Portland.
On Wednesday morning, Chatman and a spokeswoman from Portland's Bureau of Development Services planned to tour the scene.
This is not the first time a long forgotten well caused consternation in the neighborhood. About 15 years ago, contractors found a 20-foot deep one a block from Ryan's house in Janet Cahn's driveway. Cahn said she and her husband usually parked their car at the spot, but fortunately were away at the time.
"It was pretty scary," she said. "What if there had been a car right there or someone had been parking the car?"
Cahn said the hole was lined with bricks and looked like an old cistern. The couple was planning to repave their driveway anyway, so they broke up the concrete, filled the hole, and paved over it.
Another neighbor, Ariana Harley, who lives behind Ryan's house, said she grew up in the house next door. She was nervous Wednesday about the risk of sinkholes, and hopes the city investigates.
"Now I'm going to have to tread lightly," she said with a laugh.
-- Kimberly A.C. Wilson
-- Reporters Stuart Tomlinson and Melissa Binder contributed to this report
Copyright 2014 - The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.