AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Industrial designer Nic East leaves compressor room where he was trapped at temperatures of up to 115 degrees.
If you haven't seen the work of industrial designer Nic East, then you have been missing one of the premier artistic experiences in Jim Thorpe. With his wife Eileen, he operates Hill Home Forge-a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired combination home, bed-and-breakfast, and workshop for this designer of metal, wood and glass artworks.
East's latest project is a redesign of Hill Home Forge's kitchen cabinetry. He designed a set of custom drawer pulls for the new cabinetry and realized that he would need a fixture to position the knobs.
So, at about 8 p.m., Nic told Eileen that he was going to the shop to select a piece of wood to make the fixture. He crossed through several rooms of the 185 foot long rambling ranch to reach the garage that he had converted into a shop. East's power machinery filled one wall of the garage-a planer, two drill presses, and a bandsaw, all one-against-another with a galvanized steel trash can squeezed in between, and just enough room between the planer and the compressor room to swing its door open.
East entered the shop, opened the door to the compressor room, plugged in the compressor that was mounted above a large vertical air receiving tank, and set about making the fixture by sawing and drilling the wood.
When the project was finished, East headed back to the compressor room to unplug the compressor. On the way he picked up a Workmate table and moved it out of the way, leaning against the wall in the space between the planer and the compressor room.
As East entered the compressor room, he heard a "ker-chunk". The Workmate had fallen forward closing the door behind him, and just bridging the space between the door and the planer so that the door couldn't be opened.
East had built the compressor room so that it was virtually soundproof. The walls were six inches thick with the plywood exterior, heavy insulation between the studs, and soundproof ceiling tile over sheet rock on the inside. The hollow core Luan door was also covered with ceiling tile-together being about 2-1/2 inches thick. As the door closed behind him, East immediately recognized he could be trapped and no one would hear him. He didn't even have a cell phone with him, he had left it on the bench in the shop.
"I heard the noise and froze," East said. "And with the sudden realization that it could be blocking my exit I threw myself against the door-which was futile because it was not going to move. I tried throwing myself against the door, and pushing, and trying to unlock it."
It had been a warm day, the temperature in the shop was nearly 90 degrees. To keep the room quiet, East had not installed any ventilation. Inside the four foot square room, the compressor had been running with its cooling fins radiating heat at over 120 degrees.
The compressor room was at least 100 degrees and without ventilation, was beginning its slow climb towards the compressor's 120 degree temperature. As East continued to throw his shoulder to the door, he got even hotter, and he started noticing that it was getting harder to breathe, there was't much air in the room.
In the compressor room, East had the accessory tools for his air compressor in two metal cabinets. He looked through the tools but couldn't find any tool that could help. "I was stuck," East said. "I couldn't get out."
He continued to push the door. Initially, the door moved slightly. He wasn't sure why. After repeatedly pushing the upper part of the door, East secured a gap of an inch and a half. It let in a small amount of air, and allowed him to see the Workmate pinned against the outside of the door. "It was held in place by the little cranks they use for adjusting the Workmate," he said. "They had stabbed through the outside surface of the hollow cored door."
"The door opened outward and was blocked by the Workmate. I couldn't push it away." The Workmate was wedged between the compressor room door and the planer which was tight against against the drill press, another drill press bench and a bandsaw with a galvanized trash can sandwiched in between to fill up any gap that could have remained. "Together, they weighed about 1,000 pounds," East said. "I couldn't move them."
East, 76 years old, 6 foot three inches tall and weighing 227 pounds, continued making lunges at the door-nothing happened.
Again he searched the metal cabinets. This time, he focused on a flat metal bar. He pushed it under the door and used it to move the Workmate. He remembered that the planer was on legs, and if he could shift the Workmate just clear of one of the legs, he might be able to set it free of the blockage.
He shifted and pushed the rod. The oxygen was getting low and the temperature was up around 115 degrees. Then, the Workmate moved clear of one leg of the planer, and East could open the door about ten inches, just enough to squeeze through.
When he got out, he was refreshed by the relatively cool near 90 degree temperature in his shop. He saw that the shop equipment had hardly moved, although the galvanized trash can had collapsed from the force of his lunges.
East immediately removed the Workmate and moved it as far away as possible. He took a shower. His captivity had lasted 45 minutes but it had seemed like an eternity.