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Oregon firefighters use earthquake training to rescue woman trapped between buildings

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:26 p.m.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland firefighters cut a hole through concrete and used an air bag and a soapy lubricant to free an Oregon woman who fell and became stuck in a narrow opening between two buildings Wednesday morning.

The woman spent about four hours in a space 8 to 10 inches wide. Local and national cable news broadcast footage of the rescue effort and showed the woman emerging from the space at about 7:30 a.m.

The woman raised her face, clenched her fists and shouted, “Oh, my God.”

Firefighters said they hadn't gotten a clear explanation of how the woman got into the predicament. Lt. Rich Chatman of the Portland fire department said she had been seen smoking or walking on the roof of a two-story building before she fell about 10 to 12 feet.

The woman was wedged about four feet above the ground before rescuers installed braces to support her. Firefighters turned on a portable heater to keep her warm in near-freezing temperatures while they dropped an air bag into the opening to slightly spread the walls.

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

After rescuers cut a window-size opening in the concrete wall, Chatman climbed in to help apply the soapy substance. The woman then wiggled toward the hole as the rescue team tugged on her.

“It was so tight, it wasn't until the last foot that she could actually see me,” Chatman said. “She had that look in her eye that she was coming out no matter what.”

She was taken to the Oregon Health & Science University hospital and appeared to be in good health, fire Lt. Damon Simmons said. Because she's a patient, the department won't release her name unless she gives her consent, he said.

The department's Urban Search and Rescue unit who extricated the woman train for situations such as building collapses and none of the tactics used Wednesday were improvised, Simmons said.

“They're ready for when the big earthquake hits,” he said.

The unit in recent years has dealt with people who have fallen into sinkholes. But Wednesday's incident was the first time firefighters had come across someone stuck exactly like the woman was, Simmons said.

“She was just so relieved,” Chatman said. “She'd been there for over three hours against two cold slabs of concrete.

“Right before she went out to the ambulance, we were able to get a little hug in there.”

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