UPPER EAST SIDE — A construction worker was seriously hurt after getting trapped in chest-high mud for about five hours on the Upper East Side, an FDNY spokesman said.
The worker, whom sources identified as Joseph Barone of E.E. Cruz Heavy Construction, sank into the mire about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday while working approximately 75 feet underground on the extension of the Second Avenue subway line at 94th Street, the spokesman said.
Thirty-six units, or 155 firefighters, raced to the scene about 8:38 p.m. to begin a major rescue operation, the fire spokesman said. Con Edison sent large vacuum trucks, usually used to clear clogged manholes, to help suck the muck from around the man, a spokesman for the utility said.
Neighbor Fred Hernandez, 53, said he was unsettled by the severity of the incident but not the noise of the response given the usual din the construction site produces, which has long irritated locals.
"I was shocked," Hernandez said. "But the way construction is, it’s just a mess. It’s a total mess."
Another neighbor Maria Gregorio, 66, said she rushed outside when she saw the mass of fire trucks surround the site.
"We thought there was a fire downstairs because of the subway construction," Gregorio said.
Rescue workers pulled Barone free about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday and raised him to the surface wrapped in blankets within a yellow cage before taking him to New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, where he was listed in serious but stable condition, the FDNY and MTA said.
"He's so lucky," Gregorio added.
The extrication took as long as it did partly because rescue workers had to remove by hand a host of additional debris around the trapped worker. Rescue workers were also cautious to avoid a cave-in, the fire spokesman said.
The rescue was also slowed by three sheets of plywood pinning Barone's leg under the mud.
Battalion Chief Donald Hayde said everytime responders pulled mud out, it rushed back in.
"It was like quick sand," he said. "In the beginning he was pretty jovial, making light of his leg being caught. As time went on the cold and the mud got to him. Really, though, it was nothing too dramatic."
It was unclear how Barone got into the mud. A construction worker at the site Wednesday morning said he had worked for E.E. Cruz for seven years and often worked waist deep in mud, but never had a safety issue.
Work at the site was suspended to allow for an investigation into the incident, said an MTA spokesman at the scene.
''We're still trying to figure out exactly what he was doing at the time, in essence, how the ground became overly saturated where it became a dangerous condition with the mud there,'' said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.
"We will not commence any work until we complete a thorough and full investigation and get an idea of exactly what happened, why it happened and how we can prevent it from happening in the future," Ortiz added.
Ortiz said the investigation isn't expected to delay the line's 2016 completion dated.
Three firefighters were also taken to Cornell - one with a broken arm - after the long rescue, one with serious injuries and the other two with minor ones, the fire spokesman said.