Fuquay-Varina, N.C. — A Fuquay-Varina wastewater treatment plant supervisor whose foot got caught in a machine strong enough to crush concrete earlier this month says he wouldn't be alive without the quick thinking and hard work of his crew.
"I would never work for another team again," Dan Hackney said. "They were the best. My other supervisor, James, sat physically in a catcher's position for almost two hours just holding me and talking to me and making me feel like everything would be okay."
Hackney, 44, and his crew were installing a large piece of equipment about 15 feet underground at the Fuquay-Varina water treatment plant on Nov. 15, he said. As they headed up the ladder, Hackney stepped back to close a gate and accidentally put his foot straight into the mouth of a Muffin Monster, an industrial-strength grinder commonly used at water treatment plants to crush any solids that come in before they damages pumps, motors or other equipment.
"(I thought) I was going to die because this machine is made to do nothing, nothing at all but just break down whatever comes in," Hackney said. "If you're doing concrete repair out on the road and something goes down the drain, it even breaks up concrete."
Supervisor James Jordan grabbed Hackney by the arm and told him later that he was ready to pull with all his might if the machine began grinding Hackney's leg.
"He said, 'If anything else went in, I was just going to yank as hard as I could, because it's better to get most of you out of there than you going through (the machine)," Hackney said.
A team of maintenance workers shut down the grinder and immediately went to work to rescue Hackney.
"What I was doing at first was just screaming. I thought I was going to die," he said. "When they say your life flashes before your eyes, it truly does. I was thinking about my wife. I was thinking about my kids. I'm very heavily involved with my church; I was thinking about my church.
"It was just the most amazing, surreal moment that I'll never forget. It's ingrained in my brain forever."
The crew worked for at least 90 minutes to free Hackney, while paramedics stood by to administer pain medicine.
"The EMT kept trying to give me pain medications, just to calm me down, and I said, 'I don't want them,'" Hackney recalled. "'I need to stay coherent, so I can help, so I can help extract my own self from this machine.'"
Once the grinder had been loosened enough to allow blood flow to his foot, Hackney said he nearly passed out from the pain. An EMT stepped in with medicine, and Hackney soon found himself out of the Muffin Monster's grips and safely on a stretcher headed for WakeMed.
That's when emotion overtook him.
"At first, I felt like I let everybody down — my job, my family, my church," he said. "Now I realize it had nothing to do with me. It was just everything going on in my brain at the same time."
Over the course of five surgeries, doctors were forced to amputate about 90 percent of Hackney's right foot, but he believes it was divine intervention that spared him his life.
"I'm serious when I say this, the Lord Jesus Christ stopped that motor from running. It was nothing but God," he said. "It was a brand new motor, and there was no reason for it to stop. It's made to pulverize whatever comes in."
Hackney, who was hired last January, said the Town of Fuquay-Varina was dedicated to improving the plant and was very supportive of the upgrades he suggested.
Thursday's equipment installation was the last in a series of new machines the town purchased for the plant.
"I have not been to a company or town that has been as supportive as this one," he said. "I told them I would turn that plant around. We did everything we could. ... This was the last big thing. Thirty seconds, 30 seconds, and we would have been out of that hole, and we would have been running perfect."
He said the town fully equipped him for an at-home recovery and that he'll regain some mobility in about a month. After that, he can get fitted for a prosthetic foot and return to work within about two months.
In the meantime, he's thanking God and leaning on his wife while he heals.
"My wife has just been incredible," he said. "She's been my rock through it all."