Tommy Martin has lived most of his 53 years on the Martin family farm in north Thompson.
Noon, Friday, May 18, he went out to a field south of his farmhouse and started pumping out an underground tank that held pressure tanks for one the farm’s wells.
It was something he does almost every season.
“Normally I just lower a hose down,” said Martin. “But this year I had some help so I went down while the motor was running to prime the pump.”
Martin climbed up and down into the buried 10,000-gallon tank they used to hold the well’s water pressure tanks. On his last trip up the ladder he told his assistant Terry Peerley “I don’t feel very well,” and fell backward 10 feet, landing atop the running sump pump. He was unconscious when he landed, and stayed that way burning his left arm on the still-running motor.
“I remember reaching up out of there, then I woke up at a hospital in Columbia with people putting lines in my arms,” Martin said. “A few breaths was all it took. Carbon monoxide is nasty and it will kill you.”
Peerley called 911.
Little Dixie Fire Department first responders were on the scene at the 300-acre field just as Martin’s brother Mike was descending into the well house to retrieve his brother.
“They grabbed me by the shoulders and said it was already too crowded down there,” said Mike.
He was able to help anyway.
When the first rescuer, equipped with a self-contained breathing apparatus, descended, he found that Martin’s 6’7” 290-pound body had crushed some plumbing in the fall and folded a 30-gallon water tank atop his unconscious body.
Fortunately Mike had a cordless saw in his truck, which they used to cut the water tank free.
By then the ambulance arrived and together the ambulance crew and first responders dealt with their second challenge. How to get Martin out of the underground tank?
“It’s just an 18-inch square top,” he said. “I have to turn sideways to get through it. I am very, very thankful for the first responders, Little Dixie Fire Department and the Audrain Ambulance Service for figuring that out.”
“There was no way the bod net the ambulance had was going to work,” Mike said. “It would have folded him into a bundle that would have never fit through that square…and we weren’t sure how much longer he’d be breathing.”
Somebody noticed a tow strap on one of the first trucks.
One of the rescuers looped it under Martin’s arms and around his chest.
“The only way we were goinog to get him out was pulling hi straight up,” Mike Martin said. “It took about six of us to do it.”
From there Martin was helicoptered to the University Hospital.
Family members said his heart stopped and restarted three times during the 14-minute trip.
Once in the hospital, Martin had three, three-hour stays in a decompression chamber to help purge his body of carbon monoxide.
He was released Sunday afternoon and promptly said his wife Michelle went out to work in the garden.
“My garden needed corn planted and I needed something to get my mind on something else,” Martin said.
Pausing, looking over his shoulder at the bare tilled field where he almost died and had spent Monday morning cutting stalks with his tractor, he said. “It’s beautiful out here, any day you have is a good day.”