, Newburyport, MA

November 20, 2013

Trench collapse pins construction worker

Rescue takes more than 3 hours and 50 emergency responders

By Bethany Bray

---- — IPSWICH — A construction worker was pinned for nearly three hours yesterday after a trench collapsed on him, nearly burying him in debris.

William Gallagher, 40, of North Reading, suffered non-life-threatening injuries and remained conscious throughout the afternoon rescue. Workers were installing a sewer line on the side of Route 1A, across from Upper River Road.

The initial collapse buried Gallagher up to his chest in dirt and chunks of asphalt, authorities said. First responders were able to free him up to his waist, but the rescue proved tricky because his leg was pinned on a gas main.

“The problem with trench rescues is the more you dig, the more it collapses,” said Ipswich fire Chief Jack Parow.

Once extricated, Gallagher was transported to Boston Medical Center by helicopter. He had injuries to his lower extremities, said Ipswich police Chief Paul Nikas.

The collapse happened just before 11 a.m. Nikas said yesterday he wasn’t sure if Gallagher was in the trench at the time of the collapse or if he was standing nearby and fell in as it happened.

Two Ipswich police officers, Patrolman Jason Sinclair and Sgt. Justin Daly, were working a detail at the construction site yesterday. They “went into action” as soon as the Gallagher was buried, Nikas said, and jumped in to try and dig him out by hand and free him.

They quickly realized he was seriously pinned and called dispatch for help, he said.

“They did an excellent job of stabilizing and getting (him) room to breathe,” Nikas said of his two officers. “... It was a high-stress situation for them, and I think they did a fantastic job.”

Route 1A was closed yesterday afternoon as rescue teams from Ipswich police and fire departments and the Essex County Technical Rescue response team worked to free the man and stabilize the trench.

Medics were able to give Gallagher pain medication to make him more comfortable as rescue crews worked to secure the trench and remove the soil trapping him, Nikas said.

“He certainly was in some pain, and rightfully so, said Danvers fire Chief Kevin Farrell, who responded to Ipswich yesterday with the Essex County Technical Rescue team.

More than 50 emergency responders, from Ipswich, Danvers, Andover, Gloucester, Middleton and across Essex County came to yesterday’s accident, as well as representatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

For close to three hours, emergency responders in hard hats surrounded the trench, climbed in and out on ladders and handed tools down to rescuers. Buckets were lowered, filled with soil and pulled out, one by one.

Police kept a small crowd of curious onlookers and media personnel behind yellow police tape during the rescue. Dozens of emergency vehicles were parked on Route 1A.

Members of the Essex County Technical Rescue response team have monthly training sessions to prepare for complicated rescues like yesterday’s trench collapse, said Farrell.

The team also brings specialized resources, such as a truck from Danvers with a long vacuum-hose apparatus, used yesterday to pull soil and debris out the trench.

The cause of the incident remains under investigation, Nikas said.

Workers were installing a sewer line to go to the senior housing complex being built at 149 County Road, Nikas said. The trench was roughly 10 feet deep and 4 feet wide.

CRL of Medford, a subcontractor hired by The Congress Companies, was the company doing the work at the scene of yesterday’s collapse.

“The worker remained conscious and alert throughout, was removed from the trench safely and in good spirits, and is being attended to by medical personnel,” a spokesperson for Congress Companies said yesterday in an email to The Salem News. “At this time, it is believed that his injuries were limited to his right leg, and are neither critical nor in any way life-threatening. The Congress Companies, who are the general contractors on the sewer extension project, have immediately deployed its safety officers and project management personnel to determine the cause of the subcontractor’s incident, as well as work with the applicable authorities.”

“The Congress Companies’ focus at this time is to ensure the safety of all its subcontractors’ workers. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the injured man with hopes for a speedy and full recovery.”

Bethany Bray can be reached at and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.