10/21/2014

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Firefighters rescue woman trapped between two buildings

Firefighters rescue woman trapped between two buildings

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Firefighters rescued a woman who fell part of the way down a 20-foot wall and got wedged between two buildings in Southwest Portland Wednesday morning.

The woman fell between the parking garage of the Gretchen Kafoury Commons apartment building and the Joyce Furman building near Southwest 12th Avenue and Columbia Street at around 3:45 a.m., firefighters said.

The space she fell into was only about eight inches wide.

Neighbors who spoke with KATU News said they had no idea how she got on the ledge of the two-story building where she fell.

Charles Rowell lives in the ninth floor of the apartment building over the garage. He said he heard the woman calling for help.

"I was laying in bed, you know, and I heard it," said Rowell."I thought it was a cat. Two tomcats fighting. I looked out the window and I heard a woman yelling 'Help me! Help me! Help me!'”

Rowell said he ran downstairs and saw a garbage truck. The men inside called 9-1-1.  

Firefighters pulled the woman to safety at 7:30 a.m. after they spent nearly four hours cutting one of the concrete walls around the woman to free her.

She was taken to Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) and appeared to be in good health, firefighters said. Because the woman is a patient, the department won't release her name unless she gives her consent.

She was later released from the hospital.

When firefighters pulled her to safety, the woman clenched her fists and shouted, "Oh, my God!"

The woman was wedged about four feet above the ground before rescuers installed braces to support her.

Crews used airbags to spread the walls as much as they could and used soapy water to slide the woman free. Lt. Rich Chatman of the Portland fire department climbed into the hole to apply the soapy water.

"She was in good spirits," said Chatman. "We just tried to reassure her... we weren't going home without her."

Chatman had to cut part of the woman's shirt off to pull her free.

“Initially our plan was to basically cut a doorway and pull the wall away from the patient,” said Portland Fire Bureau spokesman Lt. Damon Simmons. “We had a dust issue. The dust was creating some breathing issues there for her.”

Firefighters cut windows on each side of the woman to blow in heat and give her blankets.

"We used a propane heater with a long tube," said Chatman. "We have equipment specially-designed for situations like this."

They also passed the woman cups of water through a hole in the concrete while they worked.

“We brought her husband up to talk to her, and keep her spirits up,” Simmons said.

Firefighters extended one of those windows to turn one of them into a door, Simmons said.

“That last couple feet, she had that look of determination," said Chatman. "We were all pretty convinced no matter what, she was coming out that way. That last foot, she just looked over and said 'I'm comin' out.'"

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Raw video of the rescue and excerpts from 911 calls: 

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