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Worker Buried Under Tons of Gravel Rescued Alive; Firefighters from Paulding & Cobb Fire Save 30-Year-Old Man

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December 19, 2023 | GEORGIA STEVE MAPES, Correspondent

DALLAS, GA - On Tuesday, December 19, 2023, at 9:33 A.M., Paulding County 911 received a frantic call from employees at a concrete mixing facility advising their coworker had fallen into a gravel hopper. Callers reported that he was approximately 20-feet down; they could see he was buried under tons of gravel up to his chest, with additional material above that could bury him if it was disturbed. They knew he was alive because they could hear him moaning.  

Approximately 6 minutes after dispatch, Engine 4, ALS Rescue 4, and an ambulance from Metro EMS arrived on the scene, confirming a patient was trapped under tons of material. However, his head was visible, and he was still breathing.  

Those first crews confirmed that gravel still piled above the patient could collapse if disturbed, burying the patient alive. They quickly took action to move equipment and employees away from the facility away from the hopper. Other arriving personnel communicated with the patient from below the hopper, where they determined that his legs may also be trapped in the machinery’s discharge doors; but they assured him that rescuers were working to get him out safely and that more resources would help.

Numerous other units, who had been included in the initial dispatch, began arriving on the scene, including Squad 1 and Truck 2, which carry specialized technical and rope rescue equipment to handle complex technical rescue incidents. A rapid operational assessment was conducted, and crews determined that this would be a complex, longduration operation, and additional resources were necessary to extricate the patient safely.  

Approximately 20 minutes into the operation, mutual aid from Cobb County Fire & Emergency Services, including their Collapse Response Unit and Squad 7, as well as the City of Dallas Public Works vacuum truck and Paulding County’s Department of Transportation, were requested.

The operational plan included positioning Truck 2’s aerial ladder above the hopper, where rescuers could be lowered by rope into the machine. Before the extrication and gravel removal efforts started, a large pipe was placed around the patient to shroud and protect him from collapsing gravel. Then, crews from Paulding and Cobb entered the machine on ropes and used Dallas’ vacuum truck to suction approximately 50-tons of gravel from the hopper and off the patient.  

During the operation, crews at the bottom of the machine provided continuous supplemental circulating air, monitored the oxygen and carbon monoxide levels near the patient, and continued to reassure him that the plan above was working and he would be rescued.

At 2:36 P.M., more than 5 hours after the patient fell into the machine, he was freed and raised to ground level.  Awaiting medical crews from Airlife helicopter service and Metro EMS immediately began treating the patient, and he was flown to Grady Hospital’s trauma center to treat his injuries. The patient was stable, alert, and talking with personnel during transport. 

Chief Joey Pelfrey commented, “The outcome of this incident could not have been better, and I am so proud of everyone who played a role. Fast-thinking first-arriving units recognized the danger of a secondary collapse, which could have killed the patient. Although we train to prepare for something like this, fortunately, such emergencies do not happen often. Crews from both Paulding and Cobb Fire were amazing. They collaborated on a plan involving overhead and below-grade simultaneous operations. These highly trained and professional crews worked together to save this man’s life. Many thanks to all of our partners and neighbors from Cobb Fire & Emergency Services, the City of Dallas, and Paulding DOT. This was a true team effort and we are lucky to have such a great relationship with them. Thanks to everyone on the scene, the patient will be home with his family for Christmas.”

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STEVE MAPESCorrespondent

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