SAN FRANCISCO -- A contractor died when a trench collapsed under a sidewalk in San Francisco's Lower Haight Thursday morning after a frantic, hours-long rescue effort.
The San Francisco Fire Department said several workers were performing utility work underground in the area of Oak and Divisadero streets when the trench they were in collapsed at about 10 a.m. Five people were able to escape but one male worker became trapped under eight feet of dirt and debris.
Fire department spokesman Lt. Jonathan Baxter said when rescuers eventually reached the person after about two hours of digging through and removing debris, the victim showed no signs of life.
"It took over two hours and over 50 firefighters working together to effectively reach the individual, evaluate the individual for signs of life, and unfortunately, two hours into this incident, we are naming this a fatal incident," said Baxter.
Baxter said fire department investigators would determine why the trench collapsed. Fire department personnel were expected to remain on the scene for an indefinite amount of time to ensure the safety of the location in the heavily transited area. The San Francisco Medical Examiner was also on the scene.
The worker has not been identified.
Paul Santiago and search and rescue dog Cassie were among the first on scene, with Santiago hoping Cassie would find signs of life
"The dirt has been collapsing on top of him because it's so loose, and he's been in there since 10:10. So if Cassie alerts, it may mean he's alive. But if not, it might possibly be the other outcome."
An hour earlier KPIX met with Cassie and Santiago during a training exercise. She uses smells that move through the wind to detect human life as seen in a demonstration.
"She's able to find a buried victim between...it doesn't matter how many floors or levels," Santiago explained.
Neighbors said it took just minutes for the ordinary construction to turn into an emergency.
"It's a lot of equipment. I did not realize heavy rescue had so much equipment. And it looks like it's needed to dig deep and get this individual out," said area resident Yvette McCree.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission released a statement that confirmed the worker was employed by construction contractor D'Arcy & Harty Construction Inc. The work being done at the location was to upgrade or replace existing sewer mains and sewer laterals as part of the Panhandle and Inner Sunset Large Sewer Rehabilitation Project.
The SFPUC statement thanked firefighters and other emergency personnel for their quick response and offered their condolences to the family and loved ones of the worker.
Cal/OSHA said it would also investigate the incident.
Earlier during the rescue effort, Baxter said all available firefighter resources were being used to get to the trapped worker, including K-9 search units that confirmed the presence of the trapped worker under the dirt and debris.
There were six people working in the underground trench when it collapsed and five workers were able to escape.
Rescuers used an industrial vacuum to help remove dirt and gravel during the operation.
Oak Street was closed between Baker and Broderick Streets during the rescue operation. Traffic and San Francisco Muni buses were rerouted in the area.
Lauren Toms contributed to this report.
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