A man who went to visit his storage unit in Leadville Thursday evening ended up falling into a 30-foot sinkhole next to the building.
Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue (LLCFR) was alerted at 6:00 p.m. to the scene at Second and Plum streets, arrived at 6:04 p.m. and discovered the bottom of the pit had substantial ice and water, creating a dangerously cold situation. As well, the sides and edges of the pit were deemed as unstable.
Within minutes of arriving and assessing the situation, Capt. Dave McCann directed firefighter Alex Conlin to assist the man in the pit while a rescue plan was developed.
According to information provided from LLCFR, The crew placed a 24-foot ladder over the top of the hole to allow a better view of the the pit. Conlin rappelled down and was then able to help the patient into the safety gear that was attached to a safety line and secured to the fire engine, keeping him from sinking into the water.
It was determined that the patient had injuries, so REACH Air Medical Services was contacted to head to Leadville. Lake County Search and Rescue was called out for a high-angle rescue, arrived on scene at 7:40 p.m. and assisted with removing Conlin and the patient from the pit. The patient was immediately taken by ambulance to the Leadville Regional Airport, where a helicopter was waiting to transport him to a metro area hospital.
Conlin was assessed and provided with rehabilitation treatment as well as warmed up from the extremely cold environment he had been in. Conlin, when asked about his quick reaction to the situation, said, “Risk a lot to save a lot, risk a little to save a little, risk nothing to save nothing.”
Conlin also shared that “Our Department’s (LLCFR) core ideology is “first in, last out,” and they train and prepare for how to handle a range of tough situations.
McCann said, “this was an incredible example of teamwork with all responding agencies to smoothly and safely accomplish this rescue.” On-scene and assisting agencies included LLCFR, Leadville Police officers, Search and Rescue personnel, St. Vincent Ambulance crews, Lake County Road and Bridge, and Dispatch.
The Leadville region is no stranger to sudden holes in the ground. A 100-foot-deep pit opened up in July 2012 on U.S. Highway 24 south of Red Cliff in Eagle County. Measuring 35 feet wide, the hole was determined to not be a sinkhole, technically, but rather an old railroad tunnel that had caved in.