Nine Con Edison employees played a vital role in a construction worker’s rescue from a trench cave-in that nearly crushed him to death recently in Eastchester, New York.
Just 20 minutes after his shift started on the afternoon of Feb. 12, Con Edison supervisor Charles D’Alisera got a call from Westchester County fire and police to assist with the dramatic rescue.
“We responded with two vactor trucks, but we quickly learned that we needed another truck with more tubing to reach the victim,” said D’Alisera of Rockland County. “When we arrived, the victim was trapped up to his stomach in a 9-foot dirt trench,” he said.
A vactor truck is a giant vacuum on wheels. Con Edison crews use them to remove debris from underground facilities such as manholes or vaults.
The victim was buried behind a building, so the vac-truck crews had to knock down a fence to help local Eastchester firefighters. Company gas crews also responded with a backhoe.
“As the 100-foot hose went down into hole, we all worked the vacuum to allow it to suck the dirt out. He was totally trapped,” witnessed Con Edison’s Jim Feeney of Valhalla. Feeney is a former White Plains firefighter who works with the company’s Emergency Response Group (ERG).
Feeney regularly coordinates training between Con Edison and various fire departments on the delicate rescues required at trench collapses.
“After the rescue harness was placed on (construction worker) Abeiar Herman, he jerked at an awkward, serious angle that prevented him from easily coming out of the trench,” Feeney recalled. “One of our guys, Neil McAlister, of the Bronx suggested using a Con Edison rescue device, a lifting apparatus with a hand-cranking mechanism,” he recounted.
By 5:30 p.m., Herman was gently removed from the hole, and he was conscious.
“During my 35-year career, I’ve been on trench rescues when then the outcome was not always so good. This time, everybody was applauding when he was rescued. It was a great feeling,” said D’Alisera.
“The rescue went hand-in-hand with our field training, smooth as glass with no issues,” said Captain Richard Dempsey of the Eastchester Fire Department. “It went flawlessly, with Con Edison personnel and the fire team working as one to reach the common goal to remove the trapped man.”
Dempsey added, “I am absolutely adamant that the operation was a success only as a result of the intense training. That’s what made this work.”
“I have to tip off the helmet to Con Edison’s Jim Feeney and Matt Palmer, as well as the rest of the crews. They are always there in the forefront to work with us,” Dempsey said.
“We all knew what everybody was doing to keep everybody safe,” Feeney said. “We were communicating with each other and it was a great day. I’m very proud to work with the Con Edison gas and electric units and the fire department. It was a total team effort.”
The other Con Edison workers in the rescue were Esham Gafur of the Bronx, Thadeus Young of Valhalla, and Orlando Negron, Paul Morais, and Tom Marotta of Yonkers.