A Bad Feeling That Turned Worse…

Peter LombardiIn late November River Journal was contacted about an issue that has been on the minds of some Tarrytown DPW employees.
The Friday before Labor Day weekend was a workday at the Department of Public Works in Tarrytown, and Peter Lombardi, along with co-worker Pete Ramirez, were summoned to North Washington Street across from Patriot’s Park.

Lombardi, a 21-year veteran of the DPW, and Ramirez had been picking up brush when they received the call from General Foreman Scott Weaver. “The Village had gotten a call about a sinkhole in a driveway across the street from Park. Scotty [Weaver] told us that Michael Blau [Village Administrator] wanted pictures taken in the underground culvert that runs through Patriot’s Park,” Lombardi said. “When we got there we noticed that this sinkhole was no more than a little depression in the driveway. My boot fit in it and it couldn’t have been more than an inch deep.”

Lombardi expressed his concern about going into the manhole due to such a small depression in a private driveway and even recommended that the Village Engineer, Mike McGarvey, take a look at the situation before anybody went down into the manhole. “I had a bad feeling about this and I was also angry that people were making these kinds of decisions from behind their desks,” Lombardi said. He was told again that photos had to be taken, so he held a portable aluminum ladder while Pete Ramirez lowered himself some 20 feet below the ground to take a picture of the storm water underground culvert. Ramirez wore no protective equipment nor was he issued any for his exploration of the tunnel. “Whenever anyone goes into a hole the guy above yells all the time to maintain contact with him. ‘Are you alright? Everything okay?’… things like that,” Lombardi said.

The DPW ladder did not reach entirely to the bottom and rested against some pipes for support some five feet from the floor of the culvert. Pete Ramirez crawled on his hands and knees up the culvert and took pictures with the digital camera Scott Weaver had given him. When he resurfaced he was sent down a second time to get better pictures of the culvert walls and ceiling, according to Lombardi. “I had a bad feeling that day and I told Scotty that we had done this too many times. I told him to call our engineer, but he said we had to get the pictures for Blau.”

The pictures taken in the underground culvert didn’t reveal apparent damage or deterioration to its ceiling or walls and the storm water drain did not appear to be the cause of the slight depression in the driveway on Washington Street. “There was nothing down there leaning or collapsing,” Lombardi said.

The Village of Tarrytown has three main types of underground passageways. The sewer lines, storm water drains and pressurized meter pits for water. These are all considered “confined spaces” and as such require training and certification of training to safely enter and perform work within any of the three. “I remember in 2007 that the entire DPW had a course that lasted a little over 4 hours even though we signed off for an 8.5 hour course. It was down at the Tarrytown Senior Center and we never left the building. There was no outside training with any safety equipment. The instructor said that it was not confined space training — only a seminar in confined space awareness,” Lombardi noted.

The bad feeling and premonition that Peter Lombardi had was born out 72 hours later with the tragic deaths of DPW employee Anthony Ruggiero and John Kelly, who had attempted to reach Ruggiero, in a manhole leading to a sewer line. Lombardi, a volunteer firefighter and member of Consolidated Engine, remembered receiving the call. “I went down there and it was chaos. I had known Anthony and John since I was 18, and I find it hard to accept that they’re gone. These feelings that I have won’t go away, and I know that there are others at the DPW who are also very upset.”

Looking into his eyes and listening to the tone of his voice while he reflected made this writer acutely aware of two things: the first being the magnitude of his sense of loss; the second being the anger and frustration at Village personnel for putting lives at risk by asking workers to enter “confined spaces” without having provided necessary training or safety equipment.

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About the Author: Robert Bonvento