PASSAIC — There’s a special heavy equipment unit in the area, a response to the tragedy of 9/11, that stands ready to dig, saw and torch its way into any structure where someone might be trapped.
But sometimes, readiness isn’t enough to prevent death.
Such was the case Saturday night: Firefighters got through metal and wallboard to rescue a large woman trapped in an elevator at St. Mary’s Hospital, but she died the next morning.
It was a harrowing rescue effort, fire officials said. City firefighters responded to a 911 call at 8:39 p.m. of a person in cardiac arrest trapped in an elevator. The elevator was stuck between two floors, and the woman was too large to be pulled through the escape hatch in its ceiling, Passaic Fire Chief Patrick Trentacost said Monday.
When rescuers discovered that they would need to rip through the wall of the elevator shaft to extricate the woman — as well as a doctor and two nurses trapped with her — they called in the special rescue unit run by the Paterson Fire Department.
“Once we exhausted all our tools and equipment … we had to come up with another plan,” Trentacost said.
Six Paterson firefighters appeared with saws and torches. After destroying a bathroom wall on one floor and a surgery room wall on another, they finally extricated the four people at 10:12 p.m.
The Paterson Urban Search and Rescue unit is one of nine such units statewide created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after 9/11. The units employ special tools, including torches and saws that can cut through thick metal, said Paterson Deputy Fire Chief Joseph A. Murray.
The woman weighed more than 300 pounds, Trentacost said. It took six men to lift her. The woman had suffered a heart attack before entering the elevator. She was being transported from the emergency room to the intensive care unit by the three hospital workers, who administered CPR to the woman while awaiting rescue, the chief said.
The elevator malfunctioned mechanically, he said.
When the woman was finally extracted from the elevator, she was conscious, but died early Sunday morning, said hospital spokeswoman Vanessa Warner.
St. Mary’s Hospital has no building-code violations on file, Trentacost said. A private company inspects the city’s commercial elevators twice a year, and the hospital’s elevators passed those tests, he said. Routinely, the hospital has fixed building-code violations immediately, Trentacost said. He characterized the hospital’s safety record as “very good.”
Trentacost characterized the Saturday night rescue as “very fast” considering the circumstances. Despite the death, the rescue efforts went as well as they could, Murray said.
“The system worked absolutely the way it was supposed to,” he said. NorthJersey.com