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Local first responders describe rescue efforts at collapsed power plant

2 workers remain missing in rubble
Posted at 10:54 PM, Dec 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-12 10:55:37-05

MANCHESTER, Ohio — Rescuers from multiple jurisdictions converged on Manchester, Ohio, Wednesday morning after a power plant collapsed and trapped five demolition workers beneath concrete and steel. Teams were able to free three of the workers that day, and two others remain unaccounted for on Saturday morning.

Tom Lakamp, commissioner of Hamilton County's Urban Search and Rescue Team, brought the team there Wednesday to support Manchester Fire's operation at the Killen Generating Station. The men trapped were part of a crew working inside the facility slated to be demolished on Dec. 14.

“You’re dealing with a building that has fallen down," he said. "It’s a precarious operation that we’re putting people into. We have to make sure it’s as safe as possible.”

USAR's Deputy Commissioner Tom Grau, who has worked numerous rescues since 1998, called the efforts to save the three men a “once in a lifetime” mission. He detailed the life-saving efforts required to rescue one man who had been pinned under fallen steel beams. Local first responders were able to hear the man, still conscious, as he called out for help.

“When the guys had to go down, they had to go up through, down and around to get to him. He was pinned in a small area,” Grau said.

Getting to the void where the man was trapped called for an intricate system of search ropes to keep crews safe.

"When we made tunnels through the debris, they had to take search ropes to mark our spaces,” Grau said.

First, structural engineers had to make sure the area was secure before USAR Deputy Commissioner Ed Thomas could get to work.

“The voids were very tight, very small. A lot of tangled sheet metal. A lot of tangled I-beams and beams," Thomas said.

Medical doctors were also close by through the three-hour rescue effort.

"When the doctor was called to come in and give a checkup on him, I had to crawl out, so he could crawl in. That's how tight of a space it was." Thomas said.

But in the sea of mangled steel and rubble, the crews kept the trapped man occupied, shifting the conversation to something he was grateful for.

“We were talking about his children, Christmas, as we were working to keep him occupied,” Thomas said. “We can tell a lot based on how a person responds to us, physically, how they’re doing.”

The crew then used from six to eight airbags to methodically lift the steel beams off of the worker. After freeing him, the man was taken via helicopter to UC Medical Center, where he is now recovering. Two others rescued were transported to a Maysville, Kentucky, hospital in stable condition.

"I was impressed we were able to pull it off," Grau said.

Adams County Sheriff Kimmy Rogers told WCPO the efforts to recover the two men still inside the collapsed plant were still ongoing.