The Downers Grove Fire Department received the jarring emergency call at 10:17 p.m. Two hospital maintenance workers had been injured when heating and cooling equipment weighing at least 3,000 pounds fell on them. “When I came around the corner it was shocking and horrific,” said Dr. James Cole, who works at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital.
Pinned at the chest, one man was trapped at the end of a narrow maintenance corridor 6 feet high and 3 feet wide. He had managed to lift the equipment just enough to allow his partner to squeeze out and call for help after the accident late Wednesday, officials said.
Michael Baldwin, a Downers Grove firefighter and paramedic, worked his way down the corridor to the injured worker. The man was standing upright, but was pinned at the chest and pressed against a wall.
Baldwin, a former Army medic, talked to the man, trying to keep him calm as he and Cole considered what to do next.
They didn't have much time. After taking the worker's vital signs and consulting with Cole, Baldwin was told the man's airway was collapsing and he could die within the hour unless an air tube was inserted down his trachea.
Cole passed Baldwin a fiber optic scope. The first obstacle was clearing the man's larynx. Then he worked at extending a breathing tube down his throat, relying on a tiny monitor about 6 feet away.
“At first it wasn't easy, but I said, 'Mike, keep doing it,'” Cole said. “He was calm and cool. There are plenty of other people who would say, 'I can't do this.'”
Meanwhile, a crew of firefighters used pneumatic struts, power saws and the Jaws of Life to cut and maneuver the heating and cooling coils into a position where the man could be freed.
“I knew we had one golden hour of time,” said Downers Grove firefighter Lt. Joe Difatta. “If (Baldwin) didn't do what he did, I think the patient would have given up.”
It took one hour and 13 minutes to free the man, authorities said.
Baldwin, 28, who recently celebrated his three-year anniversary with the department, was grateful the emergency occurred at a hospital, where he could bounce rescue ideas off Cole and nurses.
“That made me pretty confident that he was going to be OK,” Baldwin said.
Cole, also an Army veteran, said it took steady nerves to work in a cramped space and insert a breathing tube into a victim.
“It was nearly impossible to do,” Cole said. “He was working at an awkward angle, looking at a small screen about 6 feet away behind a fence.”
The condition of the trapped worker, who wasn't identified, has been upgraded to from critical to fair, hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Dooley said Thursday.
The other worker was treated and released. Hospital officials declined to say what the men were doing with the equipment or what might have gone wrong, saying the incident was under investigation.
“It was an awesome outcome,” Cole said. “I can't explain last night. I think sometimes miraculous things happen.”