Man's arm stuck in drain pipe was 'so tired he wanted to sleep'

Man's arm stuck in drain pipe was 'so tired he wanted to sleep'
Lieutenant Colonel Chew Keng Tok, commander of Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (Dart), showing how Mr Poh Chee Keat’s arm was stuck in the pipe.

First, they tried to lubricate the man's stuck arm to pull it out.

But it was firmly lodged.

The rescuers then went to the flat below the man's unit, where a part of the drainage pipe was exposed.

Cutting off a section of it, they found the man's hand so swollen that there was no way to ease it out. They would have to drill through the concrete surrounding the pipe and remove it to free the man's arm.

But the concrete was 20cm thick and had two layers of reinforced steel bars in between.

This was further complicated by the man's awkward position on the bathroom floor, which meant rescuers had to work with very little space.

These were some of the challenges rescuers faced trying to free Mr Poh Chee Keat on Sunday.

RETRIEVE

The businessman, who is in his 50s, had tried to retrieve a ring that fell off during his shower around noon that day in his eighth-storey home in Block 517C, Jurong West Street 52.

But his right arm got stuck in the drainage pipe and he was trapped for nearly six hours before his wife and daughter returned home and called for help.

Some 20 Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) rescuers, comprising officers from the Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (Dart) and Jurong Fire Station, worked for four hours before they finally freed Mr Poh's arm at 10pm.

Although the rescuers did everything to make him as comfortable as possible, including giving him cushions, the operation took its toll on Mr Poh who told his rescuers that his body was numb.

"He kept telling us he was very tired and that he wanted to sleep but the paramedics and I kept talking to him to make sure he stayed awake so that his condition could be monitored," said Captain Kelvin Koh, one of the rescuers.

Although the rescue involved heavy equipment drilling through concrete, it had to be handled delicately because the victim was so close to the work area.

Dart Commander Lieutenant Colonel Chew Keng Tok told The New Paper that the eight-member Dart team had to split up and work simultaneously in Mr Poh's flat as well as the flat below.

Two men used a bigger drill in the eighth-storey toilet while five men in the flat below drilled upwards on its ceiling.

Another team member managed communications and stayed with Mr Poh to reassure him.

Because of a shower cubicle in the flat below, two rescuers had to perch on a ladder while carefully drilling through the ceiling while another officer balanced on the toilet bowl outside, wrapping the exposed pipe and Mr Poh's arm with a blanket to protect it from debris.

"Our priority was Mr Poh's safety and one of the main concerns was to prevent further damage to the subject," LTC Chew said.

Mr Poh was given cushions and blankets to keep him comfortable, and was given earmuffs to block out the noise from the drilling. Paramedics attached a tube to his nose for oxygen.

Captain Koh, who stayed close to Mr Poh, coordinated communications between the two teams.

Despite wearing goggles and masks, those drilling upwards had to stop periodically to clean debris off their goggles and for paramedics to check on Mr Poh.

It took more than three hours of drilling for the rescuers to get the pipe free.

They took Mr Poh to the living room and removed the lower portion of the pipe. The floor trap, which was stuck on his right biceps, had to be cut using a special tool, the Fein MultiMaster.

CUT

Attached with a half moon-shaped blade, it vibrates instead of rotating, which means that it can cut through hard surfaces but not human flesh.

LTC Chew held the moving tool against his arm to show how it barely left a mark.

He said the same tool was used in a similar incident last year, where an 82-year-old man got his left arm trapped in a pipe after trying to retrieve a mobile phone.

As for Mr Poh's ring, it was found by Sergeant Mohamed Aashiq Mohamed Farouk and Staff Sergeant Mohamed Fadly Abdul Hamid.

The men were in charge of cutting off a section of the pipe in the seventh-storey flat when they came across concrete in the pipe.

Said Sgt Mohamed Aashiq: "We had to chisel the concrete and were clearing the debris when we found a ring with jade on it.

"I wasn't sure whose it was, so I passed it to a colleague who returned it to Mr Poh."

FREEING MR POH

1 - Rescuers cut L-section of pipe so that they can see Mr Poh Chee Keat's hand. They chisel away concrete found in pipe. They find Mr Poh's ring while clearing out concrete debris in pipe.

2 - After pipe comes loose, rescuers take Mr Poh to living room where they remove drain pipe that is still stuck to his arm. The square floor cover is still stuck, so rescuers use MultiMaster again to cut through it.

3 - Drilling is done from both Mr Poh's eighth-storey unit as well as flat directly below his. Rescuers hack through 20cm of concrete, including two layers of reinforcement bars, which had to be cut with electric saw. Mr Poh's body is repositioned so that he is not blocking drilling area.

4 - Rescuers use Fein MultiMaster tool to cut away a section of pipe lengthwise, exposing more of his arm. The cutter, with half moon-shaped blade vibrates instead of rotates, cuts through only hard surfaces but not human skin. Paramedics massage Mr Poh's hand to aid blood circulation.

Neighbour shrugs off damage

The rescue operation left a gaping hole in the ceiling and three plastic bags of debris on the floor of the flat below Mr Poh Chee Keat's unit.

But the neighbour, piping engineer Kalpesh Panchal, 34, shrugged the damage off.

He told The New Paper from his flat yesterday: "A life was at stake. How can I say no? It doesn't matter as long as a life was saved."

His wife, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Kalpesh, 32, said it took her an hour to clear all the debris on Sunday night.

The housewife added: "Now, our family uses only one bathroom."

The couple, who have a seven-year-old son, plan to discuss the renovation costs with Mr Poh after he recovers. They also said that Mr Poh's wife, Madam Lee Chwee Pang, gave them a cake on Monday to express her gratitude.

Mr Kalpesh said: "She came and thanked me with the cake. But it's really nothing much. Anyone would have done what I did."

Meanwhile, Mr Poh had plenty of thanks to give, especially to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers who worked so hard to free him.

Speaking from his bed at the National University Hospital yesterday, Mr Poh said: "To my rescuers, thank you for saving my life.

"I'm very grateful for their help. Please help me to thank everyone who helped me."

RING

Mr Poh declined to elaborate on Sunday's ordeal, but said that it was the first time his ring had fallen off his finger.

Although he spoke weakly and his swollen right arm was sporting a cast, Mr Poh insisted that he was doing well. "No surgery needed, I should be discharged in the next few days."

At his home in Jurong West yesterday afternoon, Madam Lee said she went home on Sunday afternoon to find her husband passed out on the toilet floor.

She, too, declined to discuss Sunday's incident, saying she didn't want to relive it. But she added that the ring her husband had tried to retrieve was a wedding ring.

Just like Mr Poh, Madam Lee was grateful to the SCDF. She said: "They spent such a long time tying to save my husband. They even gave him pillows and towels to make him more comfortable.

"I really want to thank them."

Madam Lee said that since the incident, she has covered all the drains and pipes at home.

But the hole in her master bedroom toilet floor is much harder to fix. "I hope it can be fixed soon, it's totally unusable now," she said.

ngodwin@sph.com.sg

lawsm@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 13, 2015.
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