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Trench rescuers recall heroic save

Posted at 5:40 PM, Mar 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-16 18:57:44-04

Omaha firefighters spent much of the day Tuesday at 130th and Hawthorne trying to pull a sewer line worker out of a trench, as viewers held their breath and hoped for the best.

23-year-old Andrew Johnson remains at Nebraska Medicine recovering.

On Thursday, first responders explained what they go through to train for a rescue like this.

“The challenge with this rescue definitely was the trench itself, it was very deep and very narrow,” said OFD Battalion Chief Kathy Bossman. She said their environment was dangerous as the ground was unstable.

“At one point Mr. Johnson even indicated he could feel the walls getting closer to his shoulders which tells us the dirt is moving, shifting,” said Bossman.

OFD Captain Terry Barney said that's because much of the ground was clay, which complicated this rescue.

“That's one of the most unstable conditions you can have,” said Barney.

Barney said the top of the trench had an opening of 32 inches-towards the bottom-just 12-inches. Johnson was trapped above his knee in soil.

‘Had him unburried at one time then there was a secondary collapse underneath him,” said Barney.

OFD tried to stabilize the trench-having its own ladder-and a vacuum to try and removing the dirt-while having some rescuers inverted-meaning going in head first.

“This is one of the most dangerous tech rescue instances I’ve ever been at,” said Barney.

Also helping with the rescue was Johnson himself-as he was able to talk to crews during the whole rescue.

“He could tell us when we were probing down there with different tools, that's my foot, that's my knee that's my shin so we could judge how much soil we actually had to move out,” said Barney.

It was a lengthy rescue, almost 7-hours. Captain Barney says this situation didn't need to be rushed.

“Rash decisions and rash movements usually cost people their lives in this, so we are trained to take a breath, slow down,” said Barney.

In the end Barney said he’s glad everyone made it out safe and sound, “Every person that entered that trench was risking their life to get him out of there-there's no doubt about that in my mind.”

During this whole rescue no firefighters were hurt and OFD credits intense training they do throughout the year that helped them coordinate this tough scenario.