Erin Schneider was washing her mechanical broom at the end of her shift July 18 when she heard a noise. Schneider, a Staten Island resident who’s worked for the Sanitation Department for two years, says she couldn’t tell what it was at first. The department’s Garage 4A, at 12th Avenue and 56th Street in Manhattan, is a large, cavernous space, but it “sounded like somebody yelling.”
She walked about 25 feet towards the sound—and saw that a coworker cleaning his mechanical broom had gotten his head and right arm stuck in the machinery that brings the swept-up trash into the vehicle’s hopper, a nearly vertical conveyor belt with metal bars called flights.
“He was caught between the flights and the top of the shaft,” Schneider recalls. The belt had apparently jammed, she explains, and the man had started cleaning without realizing that the motor was still on—and when he unjammed it, the belt started moving again and pulled him in.
His voice was muffled, she says, “but he was screaming as loud as he could.” She quickly climbed into the cab and turned the power switch off.
The man had started cleaning without realizing that the motor was still on—and when he unjammed it, the belt started moving again and pulled him in. — Erin Schneider.
The man was able to pull himself out. He was holding his arm, and “was obviously in shock,” Schneider says. She had a supervisor call 911 for an ambulance. The man was taken to the hospital and treated for a broken arm. He also lost part of his ear, says Department of Sanitation Assistant Chief Keith Mellis.
“We at the department are thankful for Erin and her quick response and that she knew what to do,” says Mellis.
“In all likelihood, Erin’s instinct and response saved the arm of her coworker,” says Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association Local 831 President Harry Nespoli. “And with more than 150 women now working within our union, Erin’s actions are just the latest example of the value women have brought to New York’s Strongest!”
Ironically, it was another mechanical mishap that enabled Schneider to rescue her coworker. The power washer in the bay where she was working was broken, so she was washing out her vehicle with an ordinary garden hose.
“These power washers are loud,” she says. “If the power washer had been working, I would have never heard him.”