Construction worker survives after being buried alive at Gainseville VA Hospital construction project

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Image from Gainseville Fire Rescue

Gainesville firefighters rescued a construction worker at a hospital excavation site after he fell into a deep hole and was covered by dirt on Jan. 10.

The unidentified worker was in the hole as part of a $16.5 million project to replace three boilers at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center. The Department of Veterans Affairs awarded the contract to a joint venture of Greenland Enterprises and SAW Contracting last December.

Gainesville Fire Rescue (GFR) crews used harnesses and ladders to get the man to safety.

The incident was reported at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center on Southwest 16th Avenue, the Gainesville Sun reported.

GFR Lt. Jeff Schuhmacher said the technical rescue team was among the responder crews.

“That’s their specialty, so this was their call,” Schuhmacher was quoted as saying. “They train a lot just for calls like this.”

The construction worker was completely covered by one to two feet of dirt in the hole that was about 30 feet across and 10 feet deep. He could not be seen from the top of the hole, GFR officials reported in a news release.

Rescuers descended into the hole, mindful that the walls could collapse, and dug with shovels and hands to find the worker’s head.

He was breathing but not conscious. As he was uncovered, his breathing improved and he regained consciousness, GFR reported.

Crews set up a safe system with harnesses and ropes to lift him out. The rescue took about 20 minutes.

“He was conscious and alert when they took him to the hospital,” Schuhmacher said. “I talked to the paramedic in the ambulance, and they couldn’t find any outward injuries on him. He should play the lottery.”

Greenland Enterprises says the boiler project involves building a new boiler plant and replacing three water tube boilers with three fire tube boilers, along with new controls and related systems. The boilers provide steam for the medical center campus, and a critical element of the project is keeping the existing boiler plant online during construction and commissioning. Once the new plant is online, the SAW-Greenland team will dismantle and remove the old boilers and related equipment.

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