Construction holes are a hazard | VailDaily.com

Construction holes are a hazard

J.K. Perry

Shane Macomber/Vail DailyVail and Eagle River Fire Departments climb out of a intersecting trench that has been secured using a 6x6 wailer system. The training is inspired by all the construction that will be taking place for years to come.

AVON – The potential for accidents at one of the valley’s many construction sites has firefighters in the trenches. They’re training to rescue a construction worker or other person from a collapsed excavation trench.”It is a very rare occurrence but with the amount of construction in the valley it is definitely a real possibility,” said Eagle River firefighter Scott Pottratz, who excavates part-time.The Occupational Safety and Health Administration calls excavation one of the most hazardous aspects of a construction project.

Walls can collapse in an instant, giving a person no time to get out of the way, Pottratz said. A person caught in a collapse is usually crushed or eventually suffocates. In July, a Leadville man died in an eight-foot deep hole he was excavating. The walls collapsed, burying him up to his head.Charlie Davis, chief building official for Vail, said building permits totaling $300 million in building projects have been issued already this year, nearly twice as much as 2004. This construction accounts for about 50 percent of excavation in Vail, while the other half is for utilities projects, he said.Pottratz and fellow firefighter Andy Pohlman said certified trench rescuers were needed in case of a collapse.At a recent training exercise, 16 Eagle River firefighters and one Vail Fire Department representative learned hands on how to shore-up or secure variously shaped trenches with lumber and plywood panels. Shoring up the walls keeps soil and rocks from collapsing.

Firefighters practiced last week shoring up an 8-foot trench in Avon. They placed panels of lumber-reinforced plywood on opposite sides of the trench, wedging pneumatic spreading tools across the trench to secure the panels. Four-by-fours later replaced the spreaders, before firefighters repeated the process to shore up the entire trench.When a trench collapses, it can take firefighters take about 20 minutes to shore up the hole to create a safe area for firefighters and victims.The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported 100 injuries and deaths nationwide last year related to excavations.Soil types determine the safest excavation methods. Some types are more or less likely to collapse, and the presence of more than one type can create instability. Other methods to secure trenches include sloping the walls and trench boxes that keep earth in place.

Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or jkperry@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado