Heavy Rescue school students respond to real-life emergency during trench collapse training

Mar 27, 2024, 9:33 PM | Updated: 9:45 pm

CEDAR HILLS, Utah County — First responders who rescued a man trapped in a Cedar Hills trench collapse said they’re grateful and surprised he’s alive.

Firefighters told KSL TV the circumstances were dire.

“The patient who was involved yesterday was in a critical situation where he’s buried up to his chest, and usually the outcomes when they’re buried that deep are not very well,” said Provo Fire Captain Devan Tandy.

Multiple Utah County fire departments joined the American Fork Fire Department for the rescue. They said the man was working on a sewer line project when he became buried up to his chest.

Among the many crews who responded were students, who have only recently learned how to handle trench collapses.

“It was just one of those incidents that we happened to be training on,” Tandy said.

He said he’s also involved with Utah County’s inaugural heavy rescue school, which was held this month.

“We’re going over confined space, ropes, vehicle extrication and man vs. machine, and then this week is the week that we’re doing trench rescue,” he said.

The students in the school come from fire departments across Utah County. They received specialized training to be on the Utah County Special Response Team, which handles severe emergencies that require extra resources and personnel. Tandy said they were on day three of trench rescues when the call about a real collapse came in.

“It was just ironic that it happened this week while we were doing trench rescue,” he said.

They quickly ended practice and headed to the scene. They said this particular trench was complicated.

“This was a very fast-paced, high-stress incident, especially with a patient being panicked,” said Provo Fire Captain and Special Response Team member Ryan Rieske.

He said students on scene leaned on their training to safely engineer their way into the trench, a part of the process that can take quite a bit of time.

“It’s already unstable because of the collapse in it, so we stabilize the trench and we use lumber, or we call it shoring, where we have para tech struts that we put in to make sure that our responders don’t get a secondary collapse,” Tandy said.

They said the man’s chances of survival were low because of how deep he was buried.

“All those forces, the dirt just pushing into the body — it really messes with your body as far as your blood flow, and blood starts to pool,” Rieske said.

The trench he was in was deeper and more narrow than what they’d trained on, Tandy said.

“That’s where the rope system came into play,” he said.

More than an hour of grueling, hard work later, they pulled him to safety. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital.

“Really grateful that that individual is able to go home to his family,” Rieske said.

Tandy said some students joked they proved they could pass this part of heavy rescue school after responding to the incident.

“They’ve already been put to the test, like, why do they have to continue?” he joked.

They said the timing of this training couldn’t have been better.

“It makes you proud of the team you’re with, all that training and all the hours you put into it, it’s nice to see a payoff,” Rieske said.

Some of the students who helped save the man will graduate Friday. The Utah County Special Response Team will host a Heavy Rescue School open house on Friday, March 29 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. at the Provo Fire Training Building to show the public how they’re handling a growing number of incidents in an area that’s experiencing a rising population.

KSL 5 TV Live

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Heavy Rescue school students respond to real-life emergency during trench collapse training