A 48-year-old Silver Spring man was rescued last night after being trapped for eight hours in a 14-foot-deep trench that collapsed on him in southern Howard County.
Frank Giddings appeared unhurt when he was pulled from the trench about 7:30 p.m. He was flown by MedEvac helicopter to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore for tests and observation.
Rescue workers, called to the accident scene at a house in the 9000 block of Dumhart Road about 11:30 a.m., found Mr. Giddings buried up to his shoulders in dirt in the caved-in trench.
"It was a very precarious situation," said Lt. Michael Gearhart, spokesman for the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services. "He was within a few inches of being totally covered with dirt. We might have had a whole different scenario."
Mr. Giddings, a plumber and former homebuilder, had been digging the trench to repair a broken sewer line at a rental house he owns. He and two other men had used a backhoe to excavate a ditch 10 feet wide and 25 feet long.
When rescue workers arrived, they immediately began to move dirt away from Mr. Giddings, using shovels, buckets and high-powered vacuum equipment. Eventually, the accident drew about 60 firefighters and rescue workers from three counties, including crews trained in cave-ins from Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
The trench apparently had been dug without shoring, which is required under Maryland workplace safety regulations. Federal and state law requires that any trench 5 feet deep or more be sloped or have shoring, according to Roy Blades, assistant chief of compliance services for the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health office.
"Unfortunately, I'm at too many of these," Mr. Blades said. "He's lucky."
Wet soil from the snowmelt and recent rains may have contributed to the cave-in, Mr. Blades said.
By 2:30 p.m., Mr. Giddings was freed to his waist. Rescue workers stopped shoveling then to shore up the sides of the trench, using boards, and metal and wooden beams.
Throughout the ordeal, Mr. Giddings remained conscious and did not complain of any injuries or pain. He did say he was cold, so he was wrapped in blankets.
Rescue workers also gave him intravenous fluids and oxygen. Mr. Giddings has a heart condition, which complicated the rescue effort, according to Dickie Souder, of the 90100 block of Scaggsville Road, who said he was an old friend.
The rescue effort drew about three dozen onlookers, including relatives and friends of the victim. Mr. Giddings grew up in the neighborhood and had built and formerly lived in the house there.
Rescue workers were ready to extricate him about 4:30 p.m., but delayed on advice from state workplace safety inspectors, who recommended that additional shoring be placed in the trench. It took another three hours to install a second wall.
Extricating someone from a construction cave-in is time-consuming, Lieutenant Gearhart said, because precautions must be taken to shore up the trench against any further collapse that might endanger rescue workers and the victim.
As soon as nearly all the dirt was removed around Mr. Giddings, he was strapped to a stretcher and hoisted out of the trench by about 10 firefighters and paramedics. They put him on a gurney, where he was examined by a medical team from Shock Trauma that had been waiting at the scene.
The cave-in will be investigated by the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health office, Mr. Blades said. Violations of construction safety regulations can result in fines of up to $70,000.