Officials To Investigate Tarrytown Manhole Tragedy

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. (CBS 2) — The New York State Department of Labor will open an investigation into the deaths of 2 men in a manhole behind a fire house. A tragedy that appeared to have been entirely preventable.

There were few smiles at the Tarrytown Main Street firehouse Tuesday. The all-volunteer department lost two of its members.

Anthony Ruggiero, 48, and John Kelly, 51, childhood friends, both fell victim to toxic fumes they encountered while in a waste sewer line, 15-feet below ground.

Investigators will try to determine exactly why Ruggiero and Kelly went down the manhole without a breathing apparatus.  Most protocols for manhole work require an air monitor, air blowers, safety harnesses and a lost list of rules and regulations to safely enter the space.

Officials said the oxygen levels in the manhole were dangerously low — about 14-percent, and 20.8-percent is needed to sustain life.

Investigators hoped autopsy results would help provide more information on a cause of death for both men.  They also want to know whether the men failed to use the proper safety gear or whether they ignored established safety rules, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.

“At this point, I can’t pass judgment on that until all the reports are back,”  Village Administrator Michael Blau said.

Blau said Ruggiero had been through so-called “confined space training.” That makes it difficult to understand how Ruggiero could have died while doing sewer work.

The White Plains DPW agreed to show CBS 2 what New York state required in such situations.

First, no one may enter a manhole until the air quality is checked, and then levels must be constantly monitored by a co-worker for methane and other deadly gases.

The worker must go down the hole wearing a harness  attached to a winch that can easily be operated by a single safety operator — which makes it easy to rescue the worker if problems develop.

Any rescuers who go in must wear a breathing apparatus.  However, Kelly did not — rushing into the manhole to help his friend, which eventually cost him his life, Aiello reported.

Police said Ruggiero went down the manhole behind Consolidated Engine Company 77 at around 6:30 p.m. Monday in his capacity as a Department of Public Works foreman to checkout a nearby blockage.

When he didn’t come back up, Kelly went down after him. He was also overcome by the toxic fumes and lost consciousness.

“We had them out of the hole, 10, 15 minutes – and they were on their way to the hospital,” said Chief John McGee of the Tarrytown F.D.

Tuesday, members of the community remembered the two men.

“They’re good members of the Tarrytown municipal family…Anthony had two daughters and John had one daughter. And it’s going to be a great loss,” Blau said.

“Our prayers go out to the families of these two men, who were doing their jobs. One of them a firefighter acting heroically trying to save the other one,” said Drew Fixell, Tarrytown mayor.

“The firefighters and the public works people who are here – when they heard – they were truly broken up. These were good good men, and they have friends throughout the community,” Blau said.

  • Christian Palais

    Je veux rendre hommage à un cousin que je n’ai jamais rencontré, John Kelly.
    Transmettre mes condoléances à sa famille, mes cousines Maureen Chebetar et Michelle Casarella.
    Je suis le neveu de leur mère : Odette Kelly Palais.Je m’appelle Christian Palais / France
    Pardon de ne pas parler Anglais

  • lynda fassa

    actually Anthony has three beautiful daughters…and was one of the nicest people in town

  • Baldy

    Low Oxygen and H2S go hand in hand in manholes…R.I.P.

  • Mairanne Foley

    I know first hand the H2S (sewer gas) is a killer…prayers go out to the families of both men. Please further train on H2S.

  • blav

    every manhole is supposed to be tested for gas levels with an “explosometer” and purged with a blower before entering> manhole 101.

  • Andy Bisesi

    Wy is this still happening ??????
    all the training thats out there I know the initial reaction is to try to save your friend but a fireman should know better 66% of death in confined space are would be rescuer,I also know that not all firemen or volunteer firemen have confined space rescue training but I would think that they are aware?

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