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Update: Inside the FDNY “Between Buildings” Rescue

Space between buildings at 80 Lafayette St, in Manhattan, where man fell. Wall breached by FDNY firefighters. Photo via FDNY Twitter
Space between buildings at 80 Lafayette St, in Manhattan, where man fell. Wall breached by FDNY firefighters, reported as ten inches wide. Photo via FDNY Twitter

FDNY crews tackled a unique rescue Sunday when a New York University student found himself wedged between two buildings on Lafayette Street in Manhattan.

On Monday, the FDNY posted a summary of how the unique rescue was tackled, detailed below.

FDNY Statement: FDNY members worked carefully, but quickly, on Nov. 3 to save the life of a 19-year-old man who fell between two buildings.

“Everyone did a tremendous job,” Rescue Battalion Chief Richard Blatus said. “The [victim] is alive today because of what they did.”

Fire and EMS members received a call at around 5 p.m. for a confined space rescue at 80 Lafayette St. in Manhattan.

When they arrived, they located the victim wedged in an approximately 10 inch alleyway between a New York University dorm building and a garage.

The man was lying on the ground on his left side and could not move his head. His foot was twisted and those responding said the force of the fall wedged him tightly in the space.

Firefighters from Rescue 1 and Squad 18 worked to lower a line from about 25 feet above to the victim, and others went into the garage and drilled tiny holes in the wall.

“We wanted to see where the line was to make sure that we didn’t take the wall down and hit the victim,” Chief Blatus said.

Within 30 minutes, firefighters began the precise extrication process.

The wall was made of two layers of cinderblock, separated by foam. The outer layer of blocks, which was next to the victim, was filled with concrete and rebar.

They used a refined concrete breaker to begin to slowly open the wall in a triangular shape. They worked from the bottom up, bringing in the bricks as they went to ensure they did not strike the victim and maintained the wall’s stability.

“It was a painstaking process,” Chief Blatus said. “It was an extremely unusual and technical rescue. It’s something we train for all the time, but we don’t get to do in practice often.”

Once they had opened up a large-enough space, FDNY Rescue Paramedics were able to begin assessing the patient. They said he was lethargic, but responded to simple commands – like squeezing a hand.

They began to administer confined space medicine and were concerned about crush syndrome, so they gave him an IV with several drugs that would keep his body from going into shock and renal failure when he was freed.

“Circumstances with this young man were unsual,” Dr. Doug Isaacs, FDNY Medical Director, said. “We’ve had jobs similar to this before, but this one was unique.”

Firefighters continued opening the wall and once they had enough space available, slowly removed the man to a backboard, where EMS members continued care as they transported him to Bellevue Hospital in serious condition.

From start to finish, the extrication took about two hours.

“This really exemplifies how Fire and EMS work together as a team,” Dr. Isaacs said. “It can be chaotic, but we’ll keep working until we rescue someone.”

He added that he visited the victim in the hospital hours after the rescue and spoke with the man’s family, noting, “They said he equated us to the Navy Seals, because we’re so efficient in our teamwork.”

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