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Long IslandNassau

Special team rescues sewage district employee after accident

Firefighters from Port Washington and other departments rescue

Firefighters from Port Washington and other departments rescue an employee of the Port Washington Water Pollution Control District after he knocked himself out by hitting his head on a pipe in a pump station 50 feet below ground on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Credit: Port Washington Fire Department

An employee of the Port Washington sewage treatment district knocked himself out 50 feet below ground level Tuesday and was pulled up a hole by a special team of fire department rescuers, authorities said.

The man was working with several others shortly before 6 p.m. in a pump room of the Port Washington Water Pollution Control District when he stood up in the confined space and hit his head on a pipe, Port Washington fire officials said.

Rescuers navigated steep stairs to reach a pipe-filled section of a 10-foot-square room off a shaft and found the victim on a raised floor inches from a thin layer of sewage on the bottom, said Port Washington Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Vogeley.

"It was like going into a submarine," Vogeley said.

Not only was the injured man in a tight space on the lowest level, the only way to get him out was a round access opening -- slightly larger than a manhole -- that is normally used to lower equipment, Port Washington Fire Chief Brian Waterson said.

The staircase was too steep and tight, and the doorway into the bottom level too narrow to get the victim out and to get to a hospital within the "golden hour," when an injured person has the best chance of surviving, fire officials said.

"He had to be packaged into a stokes basket . . . and he had to be pulled up by hand out of the hole," Waterson said, referring to a basket that an injured person is placed into to be lifted up.

He said about 80 people responded as part of the Nassau County Fire Services Technical Rescue Team, a unit drawn from several fire departments trained to rescue victims in unusual situations. For this rescue, volunteers came from Manhasset, Roslyn, Bethpage and Massapequa, he said.

Rescuers fashioned a rope and pulley system and hauled the injured man up about 50 minutes after he fell, authorities said.

The worker, who was in his 20s or 30s, was drifting in and out of consciousness as he spoke to rescuers and was taken to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, fire chief said.

"He just asked if he was going to be OK," Waterson said.

Fire officials said the operation went smoothly because Port Washington firefighters drill at several pump stations in the community almost every month.

Vogeley, who went down with a paramedic and three other volunteers, said they had to work in a 3- by 7-foot section of the room to place the man on the Stokes basket.

Fire officials said they were worried about the air underground -- whether it contained noxious gases and whether there was enough oxygen. Portable monitoring devices showed the air was safe, Vogeley said.

He said there was no "head scratching" on what to do in the unusual situation.

"Even though it was something out of the ordinary," he said, "it was almost routine because a lot of the guys knew what had to be done.

"The practice and training we do . . . paid off here."

A call to the sewage district was not returned.


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