JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — From the top of a 40-foot-tall, 18-foot-wide tank, rescuers spotted a man, trapped in tar Friday.
“Inside that tank temperatures were about 115-degrees Fahrenheit,” said JFRD District Chief Kurt Wilson, “and the tar itself was about 90 degrees.”
Wilson said the conditions his team faced were beyond anything they’ve ever seen before.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime call. This was truly one of the most technical rescues we’ve had in 20 years.”
Wilson said the asphalt storage tank is heated by coils, which had been turned off by asphalt plant employees so the man could perform maintenance inside the tank.
He thought the asphalt had hardened enough to step on, but instead, like quick-sand, the highly flammable tar sucked him in, and continued to harden around him.
“Those heated coils contain 500 gallons of oil and any time if we were to puncture or rupture those, we would have flooded that tank.”
The man, Wilson said, remained calm in terrifying conditions. He was given a mask and rescuers pumped oxygen into the tank so he could breathe. They also covered him with a cooling vest and countless 10-pound bags of ice.
“He knew we were working non-stop to take care of him, to get him out of there and we weren’t going to leave him without him in the same condition that he got there in.”
Shovels were used to dig through the tar through a 19-inch hole in the side of the tank. The department lost nearly $70,000 in equipment in the process.
At one point, more than one-fifth of the entire department was called in to help including 13 fire engines, six fire chiefs, five rescue units, six ladders, 12 specialty units, and 100 firefighters.
Wilson said the department called in many off-duty officers to help back-fill stations so the city was properly staffed if there had been another emergency.
After more than seven hours, the man was freed and taken to UF Health for treatment. Wilson would not comment on the man’s injuries but says they were “typical for what one might endure in waist-high hot tar.”