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Fumes sicken SFO workers, prompt emergency response

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Fumes from a concrete-cutting machine temporarily overcame two plumbers working in an underground tunnel at San Francisco International Airport, and triggered a 2 1/2-hour search and a robust response by emergency workers for one of the men, an airport official said.

The call came in about 3:30 p.m. today of a possible explosion in a cramped tunnel underneath a space occupied by Gate Gourmet, which prepares an estimated 70 percent of meals served to passengers on outbound flights, said Russell Mackey, the airport’s duty manager.

The men, Mackey said, were working on plumbing underneath the airport’s “649 building.”

Though it appears the two men were overcome by fumes from the gasoline-powered concrete cutting machine they brought with them, the call initially came in as a tank rupture of some sort, prompting a sizeable response by emergency workers, Mackey said. One of the men apparently was overcome by the exhaust fumes, and passed out. The other man dragged his co-worker to a seemingly safer space, and left the tunnel before he too passed out, Mackey said.

When searchers descended into the cramped tunnel, that other man — who was still disoriented, Mackey said — had crawled away from where his co-worker had left him. The tunnel network, Mackey said, is fairly extensive.

Mackey said:

“It took about 2 1/2 hours before the fire department found the other man, crawling toward them.”

That second man was taken to a nearby hospital for examination.

As for the fairly significant emergency response, Mackey said, “We didn’t really know what kind of incident we were responding to.”

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