Sunday, September 20, 2020

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Guilford Fire Department Rescues Man After 30-Foot Fall into Well Inside Home

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Guilford firefighters work to lift a man out of a thirty-foot well in a house after a floor collapsed underneath him. Photo courtesy of the Guilford Fire Department

Guilford firefighters work to lift a man out of a thirty-foot well in a house after a floor collapsed underneath him. (Photo courtesy of the Guilford Fire Department )

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A Guilford fightfighter and the man who fell through the floor are lifted to safety by a site-constructed harness and haul apparatus. Photo courtesy of the Guilford Fire Department

A Guilford fightfighter and the man who fell through the floor are lifted to safety by a site-constructed harness and haul apparatus. (Photo courtesy of the Guilford Fire Department )

A 911 call on the evening of June 28 led the Guilford Fire Department (GFD) to a person who had fallen through the floor of a friend’s home. When firefighters arrived on the scene minutes later, they found something much more frightening than a simple home accident.

A gaping hole in the floor revealed a dark plunge of almost 30 feet, with shattered wood and other debris floating in cold water that threatened to drown the victim.

According to Assistant Fire Chief Mike Shove, it took 43 minutes from when the department received the 911 call to when the victim was pulled safely from the depths.

“That’s really good for a tactical rescue,” Shove said.

The hole led to an old well that had never been filled or properly covered, according to a post by the Guilford Police Department (GPD). The house was constructed in 1843, and the victim was helping a friend move in to the newly purchased home.

The victim spent around 20 minutes treading water while waiting for help, and was transferred to Yale New Haven Hospital—”miraculously” only suffering minor injuries, according to the GPD.

Shove lauded the entire GFD and the firefighters on the scene in particular for their calm and courageous response, which he credited to preparation and consistent, extensive training in high-risk scenarios.

A Credit to Training

“We train all the time—every day is a training day,” Shove said. “Our guys are out there at least three hours a day training on something, especially these types of events. We do a lot of technical rescue stuff...good thing is rope goes with a lot of them—rope rescue and rigging.”

This particular scenario made the kind of flexible, comprehensive training particularly vital, as the firefighters responding to the call didn’t know the specifics or the severity of the situation until they arrived.

After quickly lowering a rope and life vest to the victim, the responding firefighters constructed a “lowering and haul system” that allowed one firefighter to descend down to where he could secure the victim safely in a harness and bring him to safety.

Shove emphasized how expeditious and focused the GFD firefighters were in the rescue. But even though the terrifying situation was “unique,” he said his firefighters were prepared, again, crediting the department’s everyday training regime.

“We call them low-frequency, high-risk events,” Shove said. “Basically doesn’t happen very often, but when it happens, we have to make sure we’re doing it right...Again it falls back on training and practicing for these things to make sure we’re mission-ready.”

As far unidentified wells in old houses, Guilford Building Official Kimberly Norman-Rosedam said it was possible “quite a few homes” in Guilford have wells underneath the floors— a somewhat common practice when building houses decades or centuries ago because it helped prevent pipes from freezing. Norman-Rosedam said she had visited the building, and was guessing that no one had properly capped off the well and condensation over the years had softened the floorboards until they became susceptible to sudden collapse.

Though the home was recently sold, Building Department officials only inspect homes that are newly constructed or newly renovated, she said.

Most aspects of wells and their maintenance or construction are the purveyance of the Health Department, according to Norman-Rosedam.

Health Department officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The rescue operation has been receiving a lot of media and community attention, with a Facebook post by the GPD reaching 10,000 shares and almost 2,000 comments by the afternoon of June 29, and a post on the popular social news and media aggregation site Reddit garnering more than 400 comments and thousands of views (filed under a sub-category entitled “Wellthatsucks”).

Shove said that he “couldn’t be prouder” of the GFD staff, and that those involved in the operation said “everything went smooth”—what firefighters always want to say after a potentially life-threatening situation and rescue.

“I’d say I’m proud of the department, the crews, and just how everybody worked together,” Shove said.


Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email Jesse at j.williams@shorepublishing.com.

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