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Officials To Investigate Tarrytown Manhole Tragedy

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Photo/CBS 2

Photo/CBS 2

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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.

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