Dangers of Trenches and Excavations

Trenches are dug for a variety of reasons – construction, agricultural and installing utilities and pipelines. But the dangers of trench collapses, cave-ins and side wall collapses are very real.

Two children, playing at an unsecured excavation site for a new home in the Tinsley Park area of Chicago, were buried for thirty minutes when a wall of mud collapsed on them. One of the girls was buried up to her shoulders in mud, while the other was buried beneath her. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, rescuers described this as the perfect scenario for them to be alive, lying on top of each other created an air pocket to breathe. The girls, ages 11 and 12, were conscious and talking during the ordeal as rescue workers used their bare hands to dig them out.

Firefighters in Riverside, CA rescued a motorist crashed down an embankment at the Riverside interchange, walked 150 yards to find help – and then fell into a two-story-deep construction trench. The man was driving alone in his vehicle when he collided with another car. Unhurt from the crash, he climbed out of his vehicle and contacted 911 from his cell phone and began to walk closer to the area below the interchange. He stumbled and landed on the bottom of an open 18-foot deep trench.

One of the challenges to firefighters in removing the victim from the trench was the danger of the walls collapsing, burying him and any nearby rescuers. Crews used plywood sheeting to shore up the trench walls, and then used ropes, winches, harnesses and a rescue litter to lift the man out of the trench.

The potential risks to rescuer workers when excavating victims from trench collapses always need to be considered, as was the case in a recent collapse in Raleigh, NC. One worker was killed when a trench he was digging collapsed, burying him under several feet of dirt for over two hours.  The rescuers had to vacuum out the soil and couldn’t try to get in because of the unstable ground. Frank McLaurin of the Raleigh Fire Dept. explained the danger to NBC17 News, “With the shifting soil and the fractures in the soil, it was just too risky to go in before we could stabilize or remove the soil to gain access.”

Emergency Film Group’s Trench and Excavation Rescue DVD is an excellent training for rescuers who could respond to the scene of a trench or excavation collapse where there are trapped victims, providing operations and technician level training to fire departments, search & rescue teams, contractors, EMS and others who may respond. To learn more, read here . . .

Rescue workers prepare to lift victim from trench. Rescue workers prepare to lift victim from trench.
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