Wall falls, trapping worker in Snowmass Village trench
A Snowmass Water and Sanitation District worker spent over two hours trapped knee-deep in wet clay in a trench Monday evening.
Rick Weinheimer, 32, was eventually dug out, unhurt, by Snowmass fire and rescue personnel. He was working to replace a broken water pipe in front of 0033 Horse Ranch Dr. in Snowmass Village when a portion of the trench he was in collapsed, encasing his lower body in mud. A co-worker, who was in the 10-foot-deep trench with Weinheimer, was able to climb out and call for help.
“The guy came out alive,” said Bill Cowan, chief of the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District. “That’s what we work for. That’s the greatest result we can have.”
The call came in to the Snowmass Village Fire Department at 3:10 p.m., and Weinheimer was extracted two hours and 18 minutes later. He was conscious but appeared exhausted and in pain as he came out of the trench in a sling, which was dangling from the shovel of a backhoe. His legs were caked with clay as he was lifted onto a stretcher and put inside an ambulance.
Weinheimer, of Rifle, was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital for evaluation and was later discharged. While he was stuck in the trench, his vital signs were monitored for signs of hypothermia and shock.
A 10-year veteran of Water and Sanitation and a field supervisor, Weinheimer and other workers had spent the afternoon searching for an elusive water leak in a copper pipe along the main road in the Horse Ranch subdivision. When the wall of the trench slid down, the crew had not yet lowered a metal safety cage into the trench to prevent the walls from collapsing.
“Why they hadn’t put that down before they went in, I don’t know,” said Dick Wall, manager of Water and Sanitation. “I don’t know exactly what happened and I won’t until I talk to all my people.”
Snowmass Village fire and rescue workers had to dig out Weinheimer by hand in the narrow trench, which only had room for two rescue workers.
“We can’t even get a shovel down there,” said Cowan while overseeing the rescue scene, which was lit with flashing lights from fire trucks and ambulances. “Having to dig by hand is very time-consuming.”
The Snowmass Village rescue crew arrived on the scene with gear and equipment specifically tailored to trench rescues, such as braces and buckets for lifting dirt out of a trench. And they also called for a truck from building supply outlet BMC West, which is always standing by with plywood and lumber in case of a trench incident, according to Cowan.
“We put a call in to BMC, and they rushed that truck up to us,” said Cowan, who noted that the high level of construction in the upper valley warranted such a precaution.
Water service throughout the Horse Ranch subdivision was shut off during the incident and was restored at approximately 5:30 p.m.
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