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Incident Report: November 2013

On Sept. 20, at about 12:43 p.m., Toronto Fire Services (TFS) was called to a trench rescue in the city’s North York neighbourhood.

November 12, 2013 
By Michael Langford

On Sept. 20, at about 12:43 p.m., Toronto Fire Services (TFS) was called to a trench rescue in the city’s North York neighbourhood. Twelve apparatuses were originally dispatched to the incident, including three heavy rescue trucks. Five apparatuses were later added; a total of 53 firefighters were on scene.

The quick response to and rescue of construction workers trapped in a trench in September meant there are no photos of the incident; Toronto Fire Services, which trains for trench rescue, among other specialties, responded to a similar incident last fall.
Photo by Keith Hamilton


On arrival, TFS encountered three construction workers in the trench, which measured 2.4 metres (eight feet) deep, 2.1 metres (seven feet) wide and 7.6 metres (25 feet) long. The workers were in the front yard of a home under construction.

One worker was feverishly trying to dig out the two other workers who were trapped. The first trapped worker was buried in the dirt up to his head  – only his forehead was exposed – and oxygen was immediately applied to his face below grade. The second trapped worker was buried up to his waist; he was about one metre (three feet) away from the first trapped worker.


TFS crews initiated trench-rescue protocols, placing ground pads at the edge of the trench and securing a mini hoe, which was on the north edge of the trench. Shoring was placed around the workers in the hole and pneumatic rams were set, giving crews a defendable work area. Additional crews were dispatched to remove a 2.4 metres by 4.6 metres by 6.1 metres (eight feet by 15 feet by 20 feet) pile of spoil that was located adjacent to southwest edge of trench and imposed an immediate threat of additional collapse.

The location of the first worker was problematic, as he was trapped against the wall of trench. This necessitated the modification of our shoring pads, which were set before TFS personnel entered the trench and before the third worker left.

Just as TFS crews were clearing dirt using buckets and ropes, the Badger Daylighting vacuum truck arrived and was placed into service to remove the dirt from around the trapped workers. It took approximately 36 minutes to remove the two workers using the vacuum truck.

The workers were transported to hospital by EMS immediately after extrication.

This incident was truly remarkable. On first glance, it looked to be a recovery but through training and quick initial actions, TFS crews turned this into a successful rescue of three workers.

A special thank you to the Badger Daylighting crew members for their rapid response and expertise.


On Scene:
Fire halls: 83
Staff: 3,170 (2,778 in operations)
Calls: 120,512 incidents in 2012 with 289,460 vehicle runs
Vehicles: 59 pumpers, 27 rescue/pumpers, 30 aerials (3 towers and 2 platforms), 5 heavy rescues, 2 heavy hazmats, 15 district chief vans, 4 airlight, 2 fireboats, 1 highrise unit


Michael Langford is a 22-year veteran of Toronto Fire Services, currently in the position of acting captain. He holds a variety of certifications, including confined space, high-angle, swift water, hazmat and ice water rescue, and is an instructor with Firestar Services.

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