For the most part, an industrial vacuum truck is known for being a workhorse on the jobsite, cleaning debris from pipelines, sewer cleaning and flushing, industrial vacuuming, and hydro-excavation. This type of truck is used extensively as part of the operations of Russell Reid in Keasbey, New Jersey. But the Vac-Con’s capabilities – as well as Russell Reid’s use of it – has taken another significant purpose: helping to save people whose lives are potential endangered by a confined space incident.

Such was the case on April 25, when Russell Reid was called into service after a man in Union Township, New Jersey became trapped in aggregate in a paver manufacturing facility’s below-grade storage pit. He had entered the pit – shaped like a funnel – to unclog a jam at it unloading gate. As the employee did so, free-flowing piles of stone suddenly engulfed him and buried him waist deep, according to Gary Breuer, Rescue Training Officer for the Flemington – Raritan Rescue Squad and OEM Deputy Coordinator for the Hunterdon County Technical Rescue Task Force.

The employee worked for nearly an hour to free himself as he yelled for help. Co-workers, finally heard his shouts, rushed to his aid. After their efforts to free him instead caused more material to slide down and further bury him, they called 911. Rescue teams from various municipalities arrived on the scene and provided a harness to the man. It was to a lifeline that was tensioned slightly to prevent him from sliding deeper in the loose material. Rescue personnel started removing the stone by hand via buckets. Trench panels were secured to prevent additional material piled high above from sliding down onto the victim.

In the meantime, Flemington-Raritan’s Trench Rescue Unit (TRU) was dispatched for the use of a RescueVac system. A call also went out to Russell Reid’s Glen Gardner Service Center Manager Rich Wyble, requesting use of the Vac-Con. Mr. Wyble jumped into the jet vacuum truck and arrived at the site as soon as possible. “Flemington-Raritan Rescue brought in their equipment and within 10 minutes, we were all hooked up and got rolling,” says Mr. Wyble.

The Vac-Con was paired with the RescueVac, which combines pneumatic, vacuum and safety devices to quickly aerate and remove soil, water, mud and sand and other collapsed materials from rescue sites. That not only saves time, but creates safer working conditions for rescuers encountering difficulties dealing with ground water and mud in the bottom of a trench, as water can weaken trench walls even further. Together, the equipment becomes a powerful rescue tool at the scene of a collapse, entrapment or engulfment.

The RescueVac equipment consists of 4” and 8” diameter vacuum hoses and special nozzles to work in close proximity to buried victims and is powered by suction and air movement provided by the Vac-Con truck. The powerful Vac-Con truck can be located more than 200 feet away from the trench with the use of the RescueVac extension hoses. The RescueVac system also includes a special emergency vacuum relief valve enabling rescuers to immediately cut the vacuum to the nozzle when necessary.

After the RescueVac was quickly assembled and placed into operation for the rescue efforts at the stone pit, a rope system was attached to the tower ladder to aid in positioning the suction nozzle. While the 4” diameter system was initially used near the victim for better control, the free-flowing stone was hampering the rescue effort. In order to speed up the operation, the 8” system was brought in.

In less than 10 minutes, the RescueVac powered by the Russell Reid vacuum truck, had cleared down to the victim’s shoes. Meanwhile, the system’s speed in clearing debris enabled rescuers to remain safely outside the pit. A ladder was placed next to the man, who pulled his feet free and climbed up the ladder, where he was met by rescue personnel who transported him to the hospital for additional evaluation.

It wasn’t the first time that Russell Reid employees would work together with Hunterdon County Technical Rescue Task Force personnel to utilize the Vac-Con as a rescue tool. Late last year, David Dam, Russell Reid’s Executive Vice President, and Justin Seals, a field service technician for the company, educated rescue workers from the task force on how best to utilize the Vac-Con/RescueVac system during a trench collapse emergency during a rescue rehearsal.

The combined approach reduces the time rescue workers recover trench collapse victims by 75 percent compared to the traditional rescue methods, such as soil removal by hand. That shaves hours off of the time needed to save a victim trapped in a trench collapse, with that time potentially creating the difference between a rescue and a recovery, Mr. Breuer points out.

The Flemington-Raritan Rescue Squad owns one of two RescueVac systems in New Jersey. Mr. Breuer had initially contacted Russell Reid for training because of the company’s experience running a Vac-Con and its significant presence in the tri-state area, offering the ability for a quick response. After last fall’s training, Mr. Breuer was so impressed with Russell Reid’s assistance that he added the company to the county’s emergency resource list in the event of an actual incident, which eventually occurred at the stone pit.

“The previous practice session better prepared us for this emergency because our personnel had a working knowledge and hands-on experience with the RescueVac system and knew how powerful the Russell Reid vacuum trucks are,” says Mr. Breuer. “As soon as personnel saw the situation they were facing, the call was made to Russell Reid for their vacuum truck because we knew it was the key to moving large amounts of material very quickly.”

The previous practice drill had been a “big help” in being able to stage the rescue efficiently and successfully, Mr. Wyble notes, adding that he was “amazed” to watch the events unfold, with the vacuum truck playing a critical role in the rescue efforts. “This whole excavation was done with a truck meant to clean out sewer systems,” he points out. In addition to Mr. Wyble, other Russell Reid employees involved in the rescue effort include Alvin Chernesky, Brian Stevens, and Jerry Spargo.

The outcome for the trapped man would have been different had the vacuum truck not be used in the rescue efforts, Wyble says. “It would absolutely have taken a lot longer,” he says. “The other pits that were there were a good 25 to 30 feet deep. If anything started to break loose from underneath them, he could have been sucked down even further. He could very well have suffocated. He was quite grateful to get out of there.”

The positive outcome of this rescue was the direct result of teamwork between all of the personnel involved, notes Mr. Breuer. “Specialized training and equipment proved their worth during this incident,” he says. “Cooperation between the emergency services and the Russell Reid Company was a key to success.”

Mr. Breuer says his rescue team plans on conducting additional training with Russell Reid to increase the awareness of each other’s equipment and resources.