Governor to honor Pierce County workers for sewer tunnel rescue

Eighteen Pierce County Public Works and Utilities employees will receive the Governor’s Lifesaving Award for rescuing a fallen construction worker who was swept into the sewer system earlier this year.

The wastewater utility workers will be honored at the Governor’s Industrial Safety and Health Conference in September for their direct roles in the rescue. Nearly 30 workers in all, plus West Pierce Fire and Rescue, assisted at the scene.

On March 21, a contractor’s employee working on a county construction project became untethered while working inside a 6-foot-diameter sewer pipe. The force of the wastewater in the pipe knocked him down and he traveled more than a half mile through the underground tunnel to the Chambers Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, where county workers were able to locate him and pull him to safety through a manhole. The total elapsed time from fall to rescue was about 30 minutes.

Wastewater Utility manager Tim Ramsaur praised the team before the Pierce County Council afterward. “They followed their training and made a fabulous effort,” he said. “The fallen man’s training also served him well, helping him remain calm. It was a great job and I applaud staff.” He noted that improvements to the treatment plant headworks in recent years undoubtedly contributed to the man’s survival.

District 2 Councilwoman Joyce McDonald responded that this is a reminder of how important it is to train for situations we hope will never happen. “We wish him all the best for his ordeal,” she added.

Newport and West Pierce Fire and Rescue incident commander Kevin Kroenert also expressed high praise for treatment plant workers for their speed and competency during the rescue operation. “Fire and Rescue couldn’t have done it any faster,” he said.

“This lifesaving situation could have turned out very differently if they had not been trained and willing to work as a team during the dangerous rescue,” noted Governor’s Safety and Health Advisory Board president Sharon Ness. “Congratulations to them. They are all heroes.”

The awards will be presented Sept. 28 at the conference’s opening ceremonies held at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center.

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