A man trapped and slowly suffocating in a Somerville paper silo Thursday night had his cell phone with him.
It's a good thing he did.
First, he called Somerville Police. Then he called a coworker.
"We actually had contact with him on his cell phone," said Robert Lyons, a deputy chief with the Somerville Fire Department. Then, "all of a sudden, we were running out of time."
Trapped and surrounded by tightly packed paper shreds
Lyons, pointing to the two-story metal silo, described how bits of paper flow into it through various vents, and when something clogged up the system, the man—described as 47 years old by police and fire scanner transmissions—climbed up a ladder to unclog it. This was at about 9:30 p.m.
"He tried to loosen it up, and he got trapped in there," the deputy chief said. "It was loaded with paper. It was packed solid with paper."
What came next was a race against time
At first the man seemed somewhat okay. It appears he climbed upward through the silo, which was filled with bits of paper.
The silo is on the side of a light industrial building at 48 3rd Ave., in the Inner Belt section of Somerville, an industrial area wedged between train tracks near the boarder of Cambridge and Charlestown. A sign on the building indicates it's operated by Universal Wilde, a marketing services company that does printing and mailing jobs, among other things.
"He was banging right around there," said Lyons, pointing to a hole firefighters cut out of the metal silo about half way up.
Risk of fire
It was "nerve-wracking," Lyons said. "All our cutting tools set sparks off," and the silo was filed with paper. The sparks could easily have set the inside of the silo on fire.
But when the rescue team finished cutting its hole, the man wasn't there.
Lyons thinks the sounds of banging may have echoed in disorienting ways along the silo's metal skin, making it difficult to ascertain where the man was trapped.
Then, suddenly, it became clear the man wasn't doing well, Lyons said. The rescue team began cutting a new hole, this one near the top of the silo. When that was done, "They reached down and they felt his hand."
"We got him just in time," Lyons said.
The man was transported to an area hospital at around 10:15 p.m., according to scanner transmissions. He was having trouble breathing, but he didn't seem to have other injuries, the deputy chief said. His current status is not known.