Some situations require even the most experienced rescue workers to think outside the box in an emergency situation. When a woman's leg became trapped in a water valve in the middle of Springfield Avenue late Sunday afternoon, firefighters used a rather unconventional substance to help extricate her — laundry detergent.
Battalion Chief Richard Locke of the Summit Fire Department said firefighters were called out to Springfield Avenue near Maple Avenue at about 3:45 p.m. after getting reports that a woman, who was downtown shopping with her three young children, had gotten her foot caught in an uncovered water valve in the middle of the busy street. Locke said the valves are used to shut off the water to the buildings int he downtown area. One was uncovered, and as the victim was crossing the street, her right foot got caught and her leg slipped down into a hole that was about four feet deep.
The woman was wearing Ugg-style boots and Locke said firefighters believe that water in the valve began to seep into the boot, making it even more difficult to pull from the pipe.
When crews arrived at the scene, they immediately requested assistance from the Department of Public Works in case efforts to pull the woman from the hole were unsuccessful and the street needed to be dug up. In addition, police blocked off the busy street, which serves as a main thoroughfare through the downtown area. New Jersey American Water was also contacted and asked to respond so they could cap the valve and prevent other similar incidents from taking place.
After trying a number of different methods to free the woman's leg from the valve — including the use of a medical suction unit to remove some of the water — Locke said firefighters resorted to finding a substance that would lubricate the victim's leg and help them pull it free without causing her any injury.
"We were trying a number of different things. We tried to get out as much water as we could with a medical suction unit, so once we got that done we were looking for something that would make it a little more slippery, and something that would mix with the water. If we had used something like cooking oil, the oil would've just floated to the top, it wouldn't have mixed with the water, so we tried laundry detergent mixed with some dish soap," Locke explained.
The detergent did the trick and, inch by inch, firefighters were able to pull the woman from the hole. By about 4:26 p.m., rescue workers successfully freed the victim, at which time she was evaluated by crews from the Summit Rescue Squad. Although the woman — who remained calm throughout much of the ordeal — didn't seem injured, emergency medical technicians wanted to make sure she wasn't suffering from any other medical issues.
"Our bigger concern was hypothermia from her being outside on the asphalt for such a long time," Locke said.
The battalion chief said he's responded to many calls throughout his career for people who had become stuck in various places, but this type of situation was a first for him.