First responders train to tackle any incident that comes up, honing their problem-solving skills for when they’re faced with unprecedented accidents that have no predetermined course of action.
On May 28, firefighters in Billings, Montana, encountered one such unusual case when a man became trapped in a sugar silo.
At around 7:30 a.m., a worker at the Billings Western Sugar Cooperative sank into the sugar up to his chest, and when other employees tried to help, things only got worse.
“The worker was digging in the sugar silo when the sugar collapsed on top of him,” the Billings Fire Fighters Facebook page shared on May 29. “His co-workers made a heroic effort to dig him out but the sugar pile kept burying him deeper.
First responders were finally called two hours after the man got stuck. What followed was a 2-hour technical rescue carried out by dozens of firefighters.
Some monitored the employee’s vitals, some worked on building a structure to keep him from getting buried even more, and some firefighters, attached to harnesses, worked to lift him out.
“Firefighters entered the silo thru the only opening, an 18in port hole, and began efforts to stabilize the sugar pile,” the post continued. “A confined space, rope evacuation rescue ensued.
“Firefighters were able to construct a box around the patient and began digging him out. After finally freeing him, he was put into a SKED (a device to protect and stabilize a patient while allowing them to be moved with ropes thru narrow openings) and removed from the silo then lowered via rope system to the ground.”
In total, there were about eight firefighters working inside the silo and 30 outside.
“And so, we created a halo of safety, I guess is the way to describe it, that we built out of plywood,” firefighter Cameron Abell later told KTVQ.
“I think that I probably heard an actual sigh of relief from those inside the silo. Just getting him out of that sugar was a huge, huge sigh of relief from everybody.”
Another firefighter, Gabe Hernandez, spoke about how tricky the rescue was.
“It looked like a daunting task because every time you would dig the sugar, you know, it was pretty granulated, more would just kind of go around and was drawn inside the silo,” Hernandez said.
The man was taken to a hospital and released that night. An Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokesperson said the incident is currently under investigation.
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