LEADVILLE, Colo. (CBS4) – An intern with Leadville Fire Rescue can now add mine shaft rescues to his list of skills after coming to the aid of a man who fell 30 feet when an old mine shaft collapsed beneath him.
“My first reaction was this is not a call we run often, but we moved into gear and did what we knew we had to do to get him out safely,” said Alex Conlin.
It was just after 6 p.m. on Sunday when the ground collapsed beneath man, attempting to access his storage unit on 2nd and Plum. Conlin was one of the first to arrive on the scene.
“I’m not really surprised about that, he’s a fine individual,” said Fire Chief Daniel Dailey. “Our captain came to him and said, ‘Hey how do you feel about going down this hole?’”
“We have a saying in the fire service: risk a lot to save a life, risk a little to save a little and risk nothing to save that what’s already lost. Looking down in that whole, me and my captain were on the same page that this is a ‘risk a lot to save a lot’ decision,” said Conlin.
Within 5 minutes, Conlin was attached to the ladder of a fire truck and repelling down the mine shaft to a very cold and startled man.
“He was very in shock from walking to the storage unit to falling straight through asphalt all the way down in that sinkhole,” Conlin continued, “I was just keeping him calm and letting him know that we’re going to get out of here soon.”
Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue wrote that “the bottom of this pit had substantial ice and water creating a very cold situation as well as unstable edges and sides of the pit.”
Search and rescue arrived and helped pull Conlin and that person out a little over 90 minutes later. Both were treated for hypothermia and the patient was airlifted to a Denver metro area hospital.
“I went down in that hole knowing who I had above and knowing who was going to pull me out if things went south … that’s why I love doing this job,’ said Conlin.
Public works said there are hundreds of old mine shafts below the ground in Leadville, it’s part of the history of the town.
“… But this is really off the wall crazy. Usually, they happen in back yards or things like that,” said Michael Irwin, Public Works director for Lake County.
Irwin said this isn’t the first time this mine shaft had opened up but believes it keeps caving in further below the ground. It’s likely it could have collapsed earlier in the winter, once again, but was covered by snow.
“It’s a possibility that at one point it had opened up in the wintertime and it was just covered with ice and the ice fell in,” said Irwin.
On Monday, crews were busy filling the hole with large boulders and plan to have it sealed off with cement by Thursday.
In addition to the actions of Conlin, the fire chief said EMS with Saint Vincent Health were on scene to provide critical medical attention.
The victim is expected to make a full recovery.