SANTA ROSA — A bad situation could have been much worse for a man who sought shelter in a dumpster, then found himself tumbling into the hopper of a garbage truck.
The unwitting passenger had taken refuge in a receptacle behind the In-N-Out Burger on County Center Drive, according to Santa Rosa fire officials, who said the unidentified man was one garbage stop away from being pressed, possibly to death, in the back of the refuse-filled truck.
“It’s very likely a person ending up in a garbage truck that goes through a number of compaction cycles, likely wouldn’t have survived,” Santa Rosa fire Battalion Chief Mark Basque said.
Upon arrival at his next stop Friday, at the VCA PetCare hospital on Mendocino Avenue, the driver of the front-loading Recology Sonoma Marin truck heard shouts of distress, then found an injured man trying to climb out of the back of the truck.
“He heard noise and somebody banging and hollering for help. Then a gentleman was climbing out,” Santa Rosa fire Capt. Tony Camilleri said.
The fact that “the gentleman was in a recycling container,” said Fred Stemmler, general manager of Recology, “probably contributed to him not being injured.” Once the dumpster was tipped upside down, “he probably landed on cardboard and paper,” cushioning his fall, Stemmler said.
“From time to time,” he said, “people seeking shelter think it’s a good idea to go inside one of our boxes. It’s not.”
The unexpected rider had a minor leg injury and firefighters were called. The fire crew from nearby station 11 on Lewis Drive responded.
“It’s not unheard of for homeless people to get into dumpsters for food or to salvage discarded stuff, but something like this is pretty rare,” Santa Rosa police Sgt. Dave Linscomb said in an email.
“That guy was very lucky,” said Camilleri, whose fire crew responded to the unusual 8:30 a.m. Friday call for an injured man in a garbage truck. The man’s injuries were minor so he was not transported a local hospital.
At a recent safety meeting, Recology’s garbage truck drivers were reminded that people are more likely to seek shelter in dumpsters in the rainy season. Drivers are encouraged to “rattle the bins,” if possible, before emptying them, said Stemmler, who credited the unidentified driver of the truck for being “heads up.”
As soon as the driver “heard screaming from the interior, he shut all the systems down and called 911.”
Stemmler also described the situation as exceedingly rare. The closest thing to it he could remember was the time, around a year ago, when the company picked up a port-a-potty from an event, only to discover a man passed out inside.
“We’re extremely thankful nobody was injured, because this could easily have gone the wrong way,” he said of the man discovered in the garbage truck.