Men saved from giant vat of fish feces

Sunday, May 13, 2007
A worker, on stretcher at left, was removed from the building after he and three co-workers were trapped Friday in a fiberglass tank of dense fish feces for 45 minutes. Flooring supports collapsed as the men were cleaning the tank at the Australis Aquaculture fish farm in Turners Falls, Mass. (PAUL FRANZ ~ Greenfield Recorder)

TURNERS FALLS, Mass. -- This nasty rescue is no fish tale. Rescuers cut through a filtration tank of dense fish feces to reach four workers who fell into the sludgy dung Friday while cleaning the 18-foot tank at a western Massachusetts farm.

The workers became trapped for 45 minutes after a bracket holding a plastic filtration pad collapsed as workers stood on it to clean the fiberglass tank at the Australis Aquaculture fish farm, said Capt. David Dion of the Turners Falls Fire Department and the fish farm's manager, Josh Goldman.

One of the farmhands fell below what Dion described as a sand-and-feces mix, while the other three had their heads above the sludge, he said.

Goldman said the workers and the pad, which collects bacteria created by fish urine and feces, like some household aquarium filters, fell to the bottom of the tank.

"Everybody's present and accounted for," Goldman said. "A couple of the guys even came back to say hi."

Rescuers slashed through the feces mix until they were able to pull out the workers, Dion said.

"It was very slimy and it was heavy," he said. "Never seen anything like it in my life."

One worker who became submerged in the feces was airlifted to Bay State Medical Center in Springfield, but was talking with paramedics and did not appear to have life-threatening injuries, Dion said. The other three were taken by ambulance to a local hospital with minor injuries.

Dion said rescue workers cut a hole in the side of the tank at the farm which raises barramundi, a new fish farmed as a replacement for grouper.

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