By: Jarret Romanello, The St. Lucie Post
July 14, 2021
(PORT ST. LUCIE, FL) The first call came into the 911 Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at 1:53 PM on July 2, 2021 – A construction worker trapped underground, chest-high in water. “I can’t watch this anymore, I’m about to cry,” Colleen Jacobson, a Port St. Lucie Utility Systems Department Project Coordinator, told 911 call taker Isis Jordan.
Firethorn, a Palm Beach-based underground utility company, dug a hole for a wet well at the Veranda Estates construction site near SE Gilson RD and Becker RD in Port St. Lucie. After installing the well’s base plate, water intruded into the chamber, trapping an employee 31 feet below ground in the eight-foot-wide hole.
Immediately, Jordan, knew this wasn’t a routine call for service. “We can tell the seriousness of the call through a caller’s tone and voice volume,” Jordan told The St. Lucie Post.
With the water rising, co-workers tried unsuccessfully to pull the employee up with a crane. “Every time they try, he complains it hurts too much,” Jacobson told Jordan.
Jordan gave Jacobson advice, “We have help headed that way. Keep everyone calm there, make sure they don’t try to move him anymore – we don’t want the ground to shift.”
Garry Wilson – a 20-year veteran with the St. Lucie County Fire District supervised a staff of six telecommunicators inside the EOC during the incident, “It’s our job to be calm when everyone else isn’t,” Wilson told The St. Lucie Post.
Communication Operators coordinated with Port St. Lucie Utilities to have staff guide responding rescue units to the construction site – hidden behind a tree line off Becker Rd. Within minutes St. Lucie County Fire District Rescue # 13 arrived.
With water rising to his head the man began to lose consciousness; firefighters gave him a self-contained breathing apparatus while construction crews frantically pumped water from the hole.
With a technical rescue underway – the team of dispatchers at the Emergency Operations Center began lining up resources to aid the firefighters on the ground. Martin County Fire Rescue and Port St. Lucie Police Department responded, additional pump trucks were brought in from the county and an Air-Rescue Unit was staged for medevac.
“Hearing the radio traffic saying the water is getting higher, requesting more units, and the need for mutual aid made it sink in that this is a dire situation – stuff like this doesn’t happen all the time,” Jordan said.
For nearly two hours fire rescue crews worked to free the construction worker with support from Port St. Lucie Utility and Public Works employees who were running vacuum trucks to remove water and using water jets to blast away dense soil.
“I am incredibly proud of the combined efforts of our Utility Systems Team. Their quick thinking and professional experience saved this man’s life,” said Port St. Lucie Utility Systems Director Brad Macek.
As firefighters pulled the man up, the dispatchers waited anxiously. “You could hear a pin drop at the EOC,” Dispatcher Lindsey Cameron said. Moments later, the call they waited for – the construction worker was out of the hole. “We all burst into cheers,” said dispatcher Lindsey Cameron.
The man survived and was taken to a medical facility.
In a statement released to The St. Lucie Post, St. Lucie County Fire District Division Chief Mark Cristaldi said:
“This particular incident exemplifies the skill and professionalism that all telecommunicators must demonstrate on a daily basis and under the most difficult of circumstances. Telecommunicators are a fundamental part of emergency services and do not typically receive the recognition that first responders receive. They are an integral part of both emergency mitigation efforts and the life safety of both the public and first responders.”