As I left for work on the morning of October 4th, 2002, little was different in my daily routine other than the wedding ring I had now been wearing for just six days. In my current position as a laborer, I was installing water lines in a rural setting. It was a difficult job, but I felt that my hard work was well-rewarded with a decent hourly wage. At just 27 years old, it gave me a great sense of accomplishment to know that I could provide for both my new wife and myself. I went to work that day thinking it was a day like any other. But things changed quickly later that afternoon.
Working in a trench roughly six and a half feet deep, I crouched down to fix a pipe our crew had been laying. Without warning, the sides of the trench suddenly collapsed, completely burying me. I felt crushed under the weight of some 2,000 pounds of dirt. Immediately, panic set in as I fully grasped what had just happened. Panic soon gave way to fear, as I realized the breaths I was taking were becoming more labored. My fear soon subsided, replaced with a sense of warmth and well-being. As my concern with the situation lessened, I felt even more at ease, I was dying.
Hearing my screams, the remainder of the five-man crew on site discovered that the trench had collapsed on me. They had difficult decisions to make right away. Use the machine and take a chance of hitting me with the bucket or to dig by hand and take a chance at not getting to me in time. Our backhoe operator decided to remove the top two feet of soil mechanically, but the rest of the digging had to be carefully done by hand to avoid possibly injuring me further. Roughly ten minutes later, I was finally uncovered, but completely blue and showing no signs of life. My coworker immediately began CPR to resuscitate me, even though I was still partially buried. When the ambulance arrived, they continued CPR and eventually evacuated me by helicopter to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY.
After an urgent phone call from my co-worker; my wife, family, and friends quickly gathered at the hospital, where doctors informed them that despite their best efforts, I may not live, and if I did, I would likely have severe brain damage from lack of oxygen. One by one, loved ones filed into my hospital room to pay what they thought would be their last respects. At the same time that my family members were comforting my distraught wife, a delivery was being made to the now vacant job site where the accident had occurred. The contractor I was employed by was finally dropping off a trench box for worker safety that was not previously available to us. It was approximately 4pm, the same time I was supposed to be leaving for my honeymoon.
My speaking engagements prove a valuable tool for companies with a need for safety awareness. My unique circumstances and ability to relate to those around me are only a few of the items that allow me to captivate an audience and drive home the need for safety in the workplace. A work-related accident changed my life, as well as my personal commitment to safety awareness.
The ability to speak with others regarding my accident gives my life a great sense of fulfillment. I aspire to work even harder, longer, and more passionately each day to influence the lives of others. It is my hope that the men and women who attend my speaking events feel moved by my story of being buried alive, perhaps they will take my warnings and advice to heart and go about their jobs with a greater level of attention, looking after themselves and their coworkers with more care.
While I have successfully conveyed my experiences to thousands of people in seminars where I was either a guest or keynote speaker, I still cannot stress my status as a working class, blue collar man enough. The sight of a grown man in tears after hearing my story puzzled me at first, yet time has helped me comprehend that my accounts of being buried alive spark emotion in even the “toughest” men not out of sympathy or fear, but rather the basic realization that they could easily be in my shoes. I have no reservations speaking from my heart and relating to each and every worker sitting in the audience simply because these are the type of men and women I have called co-workers my entire life.
Eric Giguere: Video Interview