A few years ago, firefighters were called to the vacant Dunn & McCarthy site on West Street in Auburn, where a 12-year-old boy had sunk waist-deep in wet, grainy soil. The soil had become quicksand, and rescuers knew they had to act fast.
Auburn's Assistant Fire Chief Bill DiFabio said the team's trailer of tools arrived at the scene within 10 minutes and firefighters began their approach. But when the rescuers sank to their knees in dirt, the team had to turn back.
"(The boy) was probably 40 feet from us down into the dirt," he said. "It was very cold out there and he had been out there over an hour so it was a true emergency. We were working to get him out as quick as possible."
And thanks to trench rescue training, DiFabio said, they knew what to do next.
The team ended up using plywood from the trailer, which gave firefighters a work surface to "get out there and dig." Fortunately, he said, the boy wasn't hurt.
It's situations like these that DiFabio and AFD Captain Christopher Logue said they want to be prepared for, which is why the Auburn Fire Department is participating in another round of trench rescue operations training this week.
On Monday, roughly a dozen Auburn firefighters gathered at the city landfill for the state-sponsored training. The team began by building wooden struts to secure an 8-foot trench.
"This training level will give us the professional qualifications to handle this situation," Logue said.
And it's a situation that's becoming a lot more possible, as construction crews do a lot more digging around the city.
"With all the kinds of revitalization projects going on, we've got all sorts of trenches open," DiFabio said. "So far, we've had very minimal incidents, thank goodness, but we still need to prepare for the worst."
To properly prepare, Logue said, 70 firefighters will participate in the two-day training, which the state hosts every three to five years. The training talks about the different types of soil and how to handle certain hazards like gas lines, water lines and telephone lines that may be in the area. On Tuesday, the team will work with mechanical struts to complete a simulated rescue operation.
"We've been very fortunate in the city where we haven't done an awful lot (of trench rescues)," Logue said. "We've used the tools ... to shore up sinkholes and make it safe for people, but there wasn't anybody to rescue. And we hope there never is."