APOLLO BEACH — For three hours, the rescuers wrestled with the mud, trying to pull a man from a dirt-and-water filled hole where he had been trapped for most of the afternoon.
For three hours, the mud won.
Finally, progress. A slew of rescue workers, many of them trained in the specialized techniques of trench rescues, moved out enough mud to free the man - except for his left leg.
They used every trick they had: Water pumps, a vacuum truck provided by Hillsborough County Public Works that sucked water and mud out of the hole, sheer muscle. They also used firefighters' air tanks to blow compressed air with a hose to separate the mud from the man's legs.
“Which is ultimately how we got him out,” said said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Deputy Chief David Travis.
The man, whose name had not been released by late Thursday, was taken by stretcher to a medical helicopter, which took him to a local hospital, where he was listed in fair condition.
“I'm pretty confident he's going to be OK,” Travis said. “I'm sure he was elated. I know he's probably exhausted. Obviously, we're happy with the outcome.”
The accident happened about 2:30 p.m. when the ground suddenly gave way in an 8-10 foot hole where the man had been working with irrigation piping near the Waterset subdivision near Big Bend Road in Apollo Beach.
Co-workers tried to keep the man from sinking farther into the mud by placing 4x4 boards behind him and using scrap wood to stabilize the walls. But the structure quickly collapsed and was swallowed into the mud under the man, Travis said.
From the start, the rescue was a combination of specialty techniques and improvisation. When firefighters arrived, they tied a harness onto the man and connected it to a nearby excavator, Travis said.
The man was conscious and able to talk to firefighters during the rescue. He was also nervous because of all the water in the hole, Travis said.
“We had a big concern with the water initially,” Travis said. “We had three (water) pumps going and we were still having trouble getting that seeping ground water out.”
Even though temperatures were in the 70s, hypothermia was a concern because the man had been trapped in the mud and water for so long. Paramedics were also worried about blood circulation in his legs because he was being compressed by the mud, Travis said.
Two co-workers who tried to help the man out of the hole before firefighters arrived suffered heat exhaustion and were taken to the hospital by ambulance.
Fire rescue responded to the scene with more than 50 firefighters, including the special operations unit, Travis said.
“We have teams that are specifically trained for this type of rescue,” Travis said. “They utilized those skills that they practice all the time and were able to effect a good rescue.''
(813) 259-7659(813) 259-7659