Rescue Report: Fort Worth Firefighters Quickly Switch Gears to Perform Trench Rescue

By Tom Vines

Firefighters often arrive at the scene of a rescue only to find that the situation is completely different from what the 911 call reported. This was the case on June 2, when the Fort Worth (Texas) Fire Department responded to a 911 call that reported a fallen construction crane with persons trapped. Although this wasn’t exactly what responders found when they arrived on scene, the incident shows how with the right training and preparation, it’s easy to switch gears and successfully handle any situation.

The worker had been working in the 20-foot-deep trench when a piece of equipment fell on him, fracturing his leg. His co-workers needed help getting him to grade level, so they called 911. Crews packaged the backboarded patient using 1" webbing and then attached the main haul line (a 1/2" static kernmantle rope) to the metal basket litter for a haul up the ladder.
Photo Glen Ellman

The 911 call came into Fort Worth Fire Alarm (dispatch) at 1410 HRS. The department immediately dispatched the initial assignment, which included the first-due company, Ladder Tender 9 (LT09), as well as Battalion 3 (BAT03), Squad 2 (SQ02, the primary rescue squad and a technical rescue team) and Rescue 14 (R14, a technical rescue team).

Because the initial dispatch was for a fallen construction crane with persons trapped, SQ02 requested that Truck 2 (T02, a technical rescue team) and Battalion 2 (BAT02, special operations) be added to the incident, as well as the Technical Rescue Team (TRT) trailer. This meant that Engine 2 (E02, a technical rescue team) would need to be added as well. T02 was assigned at 1412 HRS, BAT02 was assigned at 1416 HRS, and E02 with the TRT trailer was assigned at 1418 HRS. Additionally, Engine 14 (E14, a technical rescue team) self-dispatched at 1413 HRS.

LT09 arrived in the reported area of the incident at 1415 HRS and attempted to locate the accident site. SQ02 arrived at 1422 HRS and met with LT09 to determine the correct location. BAT03 arrived at 1423 HRS. A construction company vehicle then arrived to direct the three units to the correct location. SQ02, BAT03 and LT09 followed the company vehicle down an unmarked dirt road that accessed the off-road site. LT09 reported “at patient” at 1426 HRS. T02, E14 and R14 arrived on scene at 1424 HRS. BAT02 arrived at 1430 HRS, and E02 and the TRT trailer arrived at 1432 HRS.

On arrival, rescue crews realized that the incident was not a construction crane collapse, as had been reported in the initial 911 call, but rather an injured construction worker in a 20-foot-deep trench—and he needed to be lifted out.

The SQ02 lieutenant and a SQ02 firefighter quickly discussed how to implement the “Plan A” rescue plan, which would involve packaging the patient in a litter basket and hauling the litter up a ladder to grade level.

Also, as other units arrived, the incident commander (IC) assigned an officer to be the scene safety officer. His job: Remove any unnecessary personnel and bystanders from the area and monitor the rescue for any safety issues. The IC appointed a special operations battalion chief as a technical specialist.

Medstar EMS had also arrived at the scene and began stabilizing and packaging the patient inside the excavation area.

The SQ02 lieutenant and firefighter descended a construction ladder to access the trench, which was already well-shored with metal wall plates, and met with the Medstar EMS crew.

The worker, who was in his 30s, had been working in the 20-foot-deep trench, more than 100 feet into a 3-foot-wide tunnel, when a piece of equipment fell on him, fracturing his leg. His co-workers managed to pull him out of the tunnel and into the main pit area, but they needed help getting him to grade level, so they called 911.

An SQ02 firefighter linked up with the T02 captain to set up a haul-team operation and equipment at grade level.

A fire department extension ladder was placed into the trench. Crews would use this ladder to guide the litter to the top. Crews packaged the backboarded patient using 1" webbing and then attached the main haul line (a 1/2" static kernmantle rope) to the metal basket litter for a haul up the ladder. Rescuers attached webbing to the foot end of the litter to help guide its ascent. They also placed padding around the worker’s injured leg to minimize movement, while the ambulance crew administered IV pain medication.

Once the basket litter was placed on the ground ladder, the team at grade level did a direct pull (a “Georgia haul”), while one rescuer in the trench followed below the basket, guiding it up the ladder.

The patient was removed from the hole at 1453 HRS, at which point he was handed over to the ambulance crew, which left the scene at 1458 HRS.

Sources: Fort Worth Fire Department Special Operations Lieutenant Michael Lugo provided the bulk of the information for this report. Battalion Chief Raymond Hill, Battalion Chief Tim Hatch and Engineer Timothy Hardeman (PIO) provided additional details.

Lt. Lugo notes the following:
“Using your most effective resources (well-trained, well-experienced, good-decision-making personnel), regardless of rank, in critical places in the command structure is essential to an efficient incident outcome. The SQ02 firefighter’s extensive experience contributed to effective management of the haul and grade-level operations.

“Sticking with ‘Plan A,’ if it is working, captures the most efficient use of ‘manpower inertia,’ whereas needlessly changing courses of action in search of the perfect solution slows the momentum of your working crews. There were many different ways to perform the rescue using many different haul techniques, but one simple solution came to mind quickly, and we stuck with it, extricating the victim relatively quickly.”

Battalion Chief Hill adds the following observation:
“The technical operations aspect of this incident went very well. I agree with the assessment that planning (training), effective use of resources and experienced personnel were major factors in producing a positive outcome. From a command standpoint, my only suggestion would be for better communication of the incident action plan to all involved personnel. This would better prepare us (IC, company officers, etc.) for future incidents in which conditions might not be as ideal. Several action plans and scenarios may need to be discussed prior to taking action based on patient safety and the risk to personnel.”

Rescue Editor Tom Vines is the co-author of “High Angle Rescue Techniques” and “Confined Space and Structural Rope Rescue.” He operates a rope-rescue consulting group in Red Lodge, Mont.

Copyright © Elsevier Inc., a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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