Contractor killed in San Francisco trench collapse, prompts investigation

(UI) — A contractor in San Francisco's Lower Haight died on Sept. 28 after a trench beneath a sidewalk collapsed, CBS Bay Area reported. The San Francisco Fire Department reported that several workers were involved in utility work underground near Oak and Divisadero streets when the trench suddenly caved in at around 10 a.m.

While five workers managed to escape, one male worker became trapped under eight feet of dirt and debris.

After an extensive rescue operation lasting over two hours and involving more than 50 firefighters, they reached the trapped worker. Regrettably, upon reaching him, there were no signs of life, fire department spokesperson Lt. Jonathan Baxter told CBS News Bay Area.

The Fire Department's investigators will investigate the reasons behind the trench's collapse.

The identity of the worker, Javier Romero, a 25-year-old resident of Alameda County, was disclosed by CBS News Bay Area on the following day, as confirmed by the San Francisco Medical Examiner's Office on Sept. 29.

Paul Santiago and his search and rescue canine companion, Cassie, were among the first responders at the scene, hoping for signs of life. The loose soil continually collapsing on the trapped worker made it a precarious situation, as he had been buried since 10:10 a.m. on Sept. 28. Santiago explained that Cassie was trained to detect signs of life using scents carried through the wind, irrespective of the depth or number of floors.

Neighborhood residents recounted how the routine construction operation swiftly transformed into a dire emergency. The extensive equipment and resources required for heavy rescue operations left an impression on bystanders like Yvette McCree, she told CBS News Bay Area.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission confirmed the worker's affiliation with construction contractor D'Arcy & Harty Construction Inc. Their work at the site involved upgrading or replacing existing sewer mains and sewer laterals as part of the Panhandle and Inner Sunset Large Sewer Rehabilitation Project. The SFPUC expressed their gratitude to the swift-acting firefighters and emergency responders, offering their heartfelt condolences to the worker's family.

Cal/OSHA pledged to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident. During the rescue, all available firefighting resources, including K-9 search units, were mobilized to locate the trapped worker underneath the layers of dirt and debris.

At the time of the trench's collapse, there were six workers in the underground trench, with only five managing to escape. Rescuers employed industrial vacuums to aid in the removal of dirt and gravel during the operation. Oak Street had to be temporarily closed between Baker and Broderick Streets, leading to traffic and San Francisco Muni bus rerouting.

This story was originally reported by CBS News Bay Area.

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