Missteps led to deaths in Tarrytown, officials say

September 10, 2010 4:09:42 AM PDT
Village of Tarrytown officials admit state investigators will find several violations of protocol during Monday's fatal accident.

"People who have gone through the training are aware what they are to do," village administrator Michael Blau said. "Do we have a written policy saying what they are to do? No. We do not have a written policy."

Department of Public Works employee Anthony Ruggiero was part of a crew trying to unclog a backed up sewer with a vacuum truck. It's designed to avoid having workers go down into manholes.

The clog was stubborn, and when Ruggiero popped a manhole behind a firehouse, he saw paper likely causing the problem and went in only with a shovel. He did not test the air quality first, which experts say is an absolute must.

"He was supposed to have a monitor there," Blau said. "I don't think anybody questions that from the training. In this particular case, that did not happen."

Firefighter John Kelly saw Ruggiero, who was also a volunteer firefighter, at the bottom of the manhole and after some discussion decided to attempt a rescue - also without breathing apparatus and also without testing the air quality despite there being a device on a fire truck just a few feet away.

The oxygen level was just 14 percent. Tests after the manhole was vented showed levels of hydrogen sulfide at 18-25 parts per million, meaning it was likely higher when the men were overcome. Levels at or above 100 parts per million are considered life threatening.

Diedre Ollendike was just one of many pausing and reflecting at memorial set up outside department headquarters on Thursday.

"I mean, what a heroic act for him to go in and try to save him," she said. "I'm just blessed to able to come here and say a quick prayer."

Just a few blocks away, mourners paid their respects at a wake for the 47-year-old Ruggiero.

Gold helmets have been delivered to the firehouse as both victims have been named honorary chiefs.