On September 6th, flags at fire stations in the Village and Town of Mamaroneck were lowered to half staff, and firefighters in Mamaroneck and Larchmont joined their colleagues in paying respect and mourning the loss of their fallen Tarrytown brothers, firefighter John Kelly and Department of Public Works worker and volunteer firefighter Anthony Ruggiero.
Both men died while investigating a call regarding a sewer condition. Ruggiero was overcome by fumes and fell into a 15-20 feet deep manhole. Kelly, who was at the scene when Ruggiero fell, attempted to help and, reportedly, was also overcome by fumes. Both were removed from the manhole and transported to Westchester County Medical Center, where they were pronounced dead.
In the aftermath of the deadly accident in Tarrytown, fire departments, state and county officials have been reviewing the incident in an attempt to discover what went so terribly wrong. Investigations are still being conducted by the New York State Department of Labor's Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH) division, the Tarrytown Police Department and the Westchester District Attorney's Office.
Chief Sean J. McCarthy of the Town of Mamaroneck Fire Department described the scene in Tarrytown as one that would have required the assistance of a county certified confined space rescue team. "There are procedures and guidelines that must be followed before a team attempts a rescue under various conditions," explained McCarthy. A confined space rescue team is composed of rescuers who have received the specialized training necessary to perform rescue or recovery from a confined space incident. Equipped with special equipment and knowledge, the team performs technically challenging rescues in narrow and constricting environments that prevent easy access.
At a Tarrytown Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, community members lambasted village officials for a "lack of regard for safety in the village and an indifference to warnings and training that could have prevented the tragedy," according to an article on Tarrytown Patch.
Two former Tarrytown fire chiefs said at the meeting they had previously asked the village for funds to put the department through confined-space training, and urged them to keep up training standards and fulfill federal OSHA mandates for training programs, including confined space training. PESH is currently investigating whether or not the village has a confined space program. If village employees were entering manholes and confined spaces, they needed to have the exact training for those scenarios, according to a NYS Department of Labor press officer.
In Westchester County, the Department of Emergency Services is comprised of four divisions: Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Fire Services, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and Emergency Communications Center (60 Control). Should a rescue in Larchmont or Mamaroneck require the assistance of a confined rescue team, the fire chief at the scene would make the determination and then contact 60 Control, the primary dispatch service for most fire and EMS agencies in the county. 60 Control would then dispatch the necessary Technical Rescue Team to the scene as requested by the fire chief on-site. This would be the procedure for any municipality that does not have its own confined space or other specialized rescue team.
While neither Larchmont nor Mamaroneck has its own team, Dean DeLitta, fire chief for the Village of Mamaroneck, is confident in the village's preparedness should such a rescue be necessary. "When we are called to a scene, we immediately respond to the site and view the situation. If it is determined that a confined space rescue is needed, a call would be made to 60 Control, and the appropriate team would be dispatched from the nearest location."
DeLitta described a system throughout the county, where emergency services work in cooperation to provide whatever assistance is needed to protect citizens. So far, this system has worked well for Larchmont, Mamaroneck and other municipalities, but, with talks of budget cuts being made throughout the county, there is growing concern. During recent legislative and committee meetings in Westchester County under the rubric of Government Reform, Efficiency & Savings, discussions have been underway regarding a proposal to consolidate the County's Departments of Emergency Services and Public Safety. These talks are ongoing, and Chief DeLitta and other fire officials have been paying close attention to what decision will be made.
In the meantime, fire houses have been following standard procedures. Larchmont Fire Captain John Caparelli's department conducts regular bi-monthly drills. However, he reports that the next drill session will also include "a talk session where the men will discuss the events in Tarrytown. We will discuss basic training for identifying a confined space situation and the response procedure." Familiar with confined space rescue procedures, Caparelli explains that "…the first thing they tell you is to never go in alone." In the Town of Mamaroneck, the formation of a confined space rescue team has been considered in the past, and in the aftermath of the Tarrytown deaths, Chief McCarthy now thinks that he might delve deeper into the possibility of adding a team to his department.
Editor's note: Sean Roach, Tarrytown Patch local editor, contributed reporting to this story.