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Between a wall and a hard place: Oregon woman freed from tiny space

An Oregon woman is cut free after falling into a tiny space between two walls during her smoke break. Art Edwards reports.

An Oregon woman was freed after dangling for hours in a narrow space between two buildings, where she had just eight inches of wiggle room in the early-morning cold as rescue teams worked to cut a pathway out for her.


The incident, which occurred at a downtown Portland apartment complex, began at about 3:45 a.m. Wednesday, when the Portland Fire and Rescue Department received a call from a bystander who heard the woman yelling. The screams were coming from a tight space between the apartment building and a cinder block parking garage adjacent to the complex, said Lt. Damon Simmons, spokesman for Portland Fire and Rescue.

"Somehow, she was on top of this 20-foot-high wall and fell down between the walls," he said. "The space that was in between them, at the widest, was probably eight inches and it got narrower from there. She was wedged in. She fell down about 10 or 12 feet."

It wasn't clear why the woman was on top of the wall. Officials did not identify her; NBC affiliate KGW.com reported she was a 30-year-old who did not live in the apartment complex.


The woman was upright and conscious, but visibly agitated when firefighters arrived, Simmons said. Simply pulling her out wasn't an option because she was so embedded into the tiny space; breaking through the wall was the only solution, he said. Urban search and rescue teams, who normally respond to earthquakes and building collapses, were called in.

"They were going to cut the wall in front of her, and just pull it away from her. [But] that was creating a major dust issue," Simmons said. Instead, they cut out two "windows" in the wall on each side of her -- smaller holes that would give rescue teams some access to her without causing her to have to breathe in as much dust.

The "windows" also enabled paramedics, who had been pumping heat from the top of the wall, to get their radiators closer to her. Meanwhile, the woman's husband had also arrived, and was talking to her to help keep her calm.

Don Ryan / AP

Building maintenance man Josh Granados measures holes cut by rescuers to free a woman who fell part of the way down a 20-foot wall and got stuck between two buildings in Portland, Ore., on Wednesday.

"It's 36 degrees, and she's up against these two cold concrete walls. So they're pumping heat into her, and they're talking to her, and paramedics are assessing her. At that point they elongated one of the windows and turned it into a 'door,' and then they were able to use soap and basically grease her up if you, will and slide her out of that doorway," Simmons said.

Once she was freed, the woman -- shivering, but happy -- was taken to the hospital. 

"She seemed really excited, obviously," Simmons said. "She seemed in good spirits. The hope is she'll be able to leave the hospital today."

The entire rescue took more than three hours and the coordination of more than 25 people, Simmons said.

Had the woman been stuck for longer, her situation could have been dire, Simmons said.

"In situations like that, where people are trapped and can't move around a lot, another concern is compartmentation syndrome," he said. "Your body is not able to circulate blood as well as it normally is with you moving around and walking around or lying down. And so you can almost get a blood poisoning: Your blood isn't getting cleaned like it should. And then when you're freed from that position, that blood starts circulating, and all those poisons start circulating. The rescue didn't take that long, so that didn't become an issue."