After almost six hours lodged several feet below the ground in the shaft of a rural Starr County well, a 4-year-old boy was met by applause and cheering around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday evening as first responders finally carried him to the surface.
Crews in hard hats and dusty vests and harnesses carefully passed the boy off to one another, up the edge of the well that they’d spent hours widening and tapering off.
The boy, whose identity has not been released, was transported by helicopter from the location on a property off of FM 649 to a hospital, according to the Starr County Sheriff’s Office, and was listed in stable condition and under ongoing monitoring Wednesday.
“Last night proved to be a testament of our community and neighboring communities’ unity and sincere concern for each other,” Sheriff Rene “Orta” Fuentes wrote in a statement Wednesday. “Through prayers and actions from everyone involved a little boy lives today.”
Fuentes thanked almost two-dozen entities in the statement, among them several Hidalgo County and Starr County fire departments, law enforcement agencies, wrecker companies and even a local pastor.
Mission assistant fire Chief Robert Alvarez was among the individuals working at the scene Tuesday evening. He said the rescue was truly a group effort.
“In the Valley we respond as a region for a lot of things, and we help each other out,” he said. “Fire departments were key in this, but our law enforcement partners and our emergency medical providers played a big role, because although they weren’t trained we had all kinds of law enforcement, DPS, game wardens, picking up a shovel and helping us move dirt around.”
Alvarez said his department received a mutual aid call from the Starr County Sheriff’s Office and the La Rosita Fire Department a little after 5 p.m. Tuesday about the boy. When he arrived on the scene other first responders had already started digging.
“We had to reevaluate how they were digging and stop that and just started using hand shovels to continue, until we got our resources on scene to continue with the rescue,” he said.
According to Alvarez, the hole was about 8 to 10 inches in diameter and 44 feet deep. The boy was lodged between 8 and 9 feet down, where the hole tapered some and was surrounded by hard rock.
“To me it’s more of a shaft if I had to describe it,” he said.
The boy could hear the first responders, and Alvarez said they would shout down assurances as they chipped away at the shell rock and hard soil.
“That we’re working. That we’re gonna get you out,” he said.
Alvarez says the rescue was tense, and seeing the boy be carried to the surface was cathartic.
“Adrenaline’s rushing. The stress,” he said. “Like with anything else, we want to make sure we could do this as quickly but also as safely as possible for everybody, so it’s tense moments, but yeah, it was a very big relief when we were able to get him out of that hole.”
Mission Fire Department’s 12-person special operations team trained in five different rescue disciplines, including confined space and trench rescue, Alvarez said. He said that specialized training among the firefighters at the scene was key.
“The members on that team train throughout the year, not to just maintain their certifications and their continuous education, but to train as a team,” he said. “Other departments have that team — McAllen, Pharr, Edinburg. Edinburg is known for their expertise, I guess you could say their forte is trench rescue.”