Mandeville firefighter Barrett Pittman, an experienced paramedic, could see fear in the eyes of the man at the bottom of a caved-in utility trench near Covington.
As Pittman and his partner, Jason Frosch, took turns tending to the construction worker and digging him out of the heavy soil that surrounded him Thursday afternoon, the man kept repeating the same thing.
“Please get me out of here. Please get me out of here. I want to see my baby born,’’ he told his rescuers.
The worker was finally freed from his earthen prison two hours after help arrived at the site along Pinnacle Parkway where a crew from Ted Hebert LLC was digging a trench to connect water and sewer service for a building under construction.
As firefighters raised him in a basket, the man came face to face with Pittman, who looked him in the eyes again. “You’re going to be all right. You’ll see your baby born,’’ he told the man, who began weeping.
The rescued worker, who was taken by helicopter to Interim LSU Hospital, has not been identified by authorities. St. Tammany Parish Coroner Charles Preston, who is an emergency medicine doctor, said that he was in good shape.
Pittman, who is a fire equipment operator for St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 4, described the worker as younger than he appeared. He and his partner talked to him throughout the ordeal in an effort to keep him calm. He said he learned that the man’s wife is pregnant with their first child.
That fact added to the rescuers’ determination to get him to safety, Pittman said.
While his story had a happy ending, another worker, Isidro Cigarroa Martinez, 24, was killed when the walls of the trench caved in. Pittman said the dead man took the brunt of the force when the sides of the trench collapsed and that he probably died immediately or soon afterward.
The Coroner’s Office had not released the results of an autopsy late Friday.
Pittman, who also is on a state rescue and recovery task force, said Thursday’s accident was the fourth trench rescue he has worked on.
He described this effort as a complex operation, partly because there had been previous digging, which made the soil more unstable, and partly because severe weather rolled through the area while the rescue was under way.
Rescuers had to take painstaking steps to shore up the trench so emergency workers and the trapped man would be safe.
The man who was saved could not see behind him and did not know his co-worker’s fate until Pittman and his partner told him, triggering more difficult emotions for the survivor.
On Friday, work was halted at the site, which had been fenced off. The Sheriff’s Office is calling the incident an accident but is continuing to investigate for any potential criminal wrongdoing.
Sheriff Jack Strain, who was at the scene, pointed out that trench boxes at the work site were on the ground, not inside the excavated area where the men had been working.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the cave-in and confirmed that both workers were employees of Ted Hebert LLC, according to spokesman Juan Rodriguez. He said the investigation is in the earliest stages.
A check of OSHA’s online records showed nothing for the company, and it is in good standing with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.
Shelly Guilbeau of the Gulf Coast Safety Council says OSHA lists injury from cave-ins as the No. 1 hazard associated with trenching and excavation.
OSHA requires excavation protective systems for excavations of 5 feet or deeper; that can be a shoring system, shielding or sloping. If an excavation is deeper than 4 feet, there must be a means of egress, Guilbeau said, and a trained, competent person must inspect the ground to ensure that there is no cave-in hazard.
The trench that collapsed Thursday was 10 feet deep.
Ted Hebert III, owner of the company, did not return a call for comment. His company’s website lists a Baker address but describes the firm as a Baton Rouge-based company that serves sewer needs in a multi-parish area.
“In addition to sewer-related services, our drainage specialists install culverts and catch basins to meet all government codes,’’ it says. “We are also capable of performing any type of dirt or backhoe work necessary.’’
A section on the company’s history says it “has grown substantially in the last seven years and continues to operate mainly as a subcontractor for other plumbers but also as a contractor for other entities.’’
WWL-TV St. Tammany bureau chief Ashley Rodrigue contributed to this report.
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