A federal safety agency is investigating why a Deer Park man fell into a 25-foot-deep storm drain in Uniondale that had been covered with plywood.

Joe Hranicka, 50, an employee of Pam Sweeping in Islip, fell into the hole while cleaning a parking lot about 11 p.m. Monday. He was rescued more than eight hours later when a passerby heard screams and called 911, police said.

Investigations of work-related accidents by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration legally can take up to six months to complete, but "I don't expect this to take that long," said John Chavez, a spokesman for the Department of Labor, which oversees OSHA.

The storm drain is on private property owned by Manhattan-based real estate company Philips International, and a company worker had placed the plywood, about 4 feet by 3 feet, on the hole, police said. A Philips official did not return a phone call or an email seeking comment.

Nassau County police said Hranicka was cleaning the lot at the vacant storefront on Jerusalem Avenue when he stopped to move the plywood.

Police said it turned out the plywood was covering a storm drain. Hranicka fell in, landing on dry debris and a chair.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

He was still there when Tim Eareckson, 51, passed by on a bicycle and saw Hranicka's vacant Isuzu sweeper truck about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, police said. Eareckson stopped, heard Hranicka screaming and called police from his cellphone.

"I saw the sweeper truck running, and I thought the driver might have fallen asleep. I heard him calling for help and I went over to the hole," said Eareckson, who is unemployed and had spent the night at a nearby homeless shelter.

"He said, 'Please help me. Get me help,' " Eareckson said.

Emergency Services officers and volunteers from the Uniondale Fire Department responded to the scene, on Jerusalem Avenue across from a ShopRite shopping center.

The emergency workers used a rope and pulley system connected to supporting poles to lower a basket into the hole. Hranicka was secured to the basket and raised to the street about 7:40 a.m., police said.

The drain's metal cover was found in the hole, and police said it may have fallen in when someone tried to remove it to sell for scrap.

Police said Hranicka was taken to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow with two possible broken wrists, as well as bruises and contusions. A hospital spokeswoman said Hranicka was in fair condition last night.

The owner of Pam Sweeping, Kenneth Roy, said Hranicka had 10 sweeping jobs that night, and that he had just finished the second job of the night at another shopping center across Jerusalem Avenue.

"He was very apologetic that he was going to miss work for the rest of the week," Roy said, adding that Hranicka will get paid for the missed time.

With John Valenti