Chances are, when you notice construction workers digging a trench, your mind doesn't jump to danger.
However, according to local firefighters taking a special rescue class, the dangers are hidden just below the surface.
"You usually hear about two or three a year where somebody gets killed in a trench collapse in Virginia," says Lt. Jason Jenkins of the Staunton Fire Department.
With 1,600 people killed or injured in trench collapses each year, local firefighters wanted to be prepared for the technical aspects of a trench rescue if disaster strikes nearby.
The faster they stabilize the trench's walls, the sooner they can provide life support to injured workers.
In just two days of training, the firefighters from Staunton, Augusta County, Waynesboro, Rockingham County and Virginia Beach have already cut their response times in half.
"We just recently got the equipment to be able to do this type of rescue. Before we had to depend on other agencies, so now we're getting the training to be able to do it ourselves in this area," says Jenkins.
The deeper the trench, the more pressure is placed on the side walls, similar to when you dig a hole in the sand at the beach and the sides rush in to fill it.
According to class instructor Willie Rice, the weight of the dirt can do major damage to anyone in its way.
"You may get a chunk of dirt that is three or four foot in diameter but weighs two tons," explains Rice.
Construction companies are required to reinforce trenches to prevent a collapse. However, not all of them follow the rules. With the relatively stable Virginia soil, trenches are rarely inspected.
"They will cut corners. They will do things that save them time, because in the construction trades time is money," adds Rice.
The specialized training will continue through Wednesday.
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