One worker was killed and three firefighters were hospitalized after being overcome by mysterious fumes that rose out of an opened manhole in Middletown, OH.
Jabin Lakes, a maintenance worker for the City of Middletown, was found dead at the bottom of a manhole. He’d opened the cover to do a routine visual check of sewer lines.
Lakes hadn’t gone below ground. Authorities believe he lost consciousness and fell in.
An autopsy may determine whether Lakes died of exposure to the fumes or from his fall.
One firefighter was lowered into the hole by a rope and was quickly overcome by the same fumes. Two other firefighters standing outside the hole also began to have difficulty breathing.
The firefighters weren’t using breathing apparatus because they thought they were responding to a fall.
The firefighter who was lowered into the hole remains in a hospital intensive care unit. Another firefighter is hospitalized in fair condition, and the third was treated and released.
Initial tests indicate the fumes might have been nitrogen. Further tests will determine what the fumes were.
The manhole is in front of an Air Products and Chemicals facility that supplies oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen to AK Steel’s Middletown Works. Authorities say they can’t rule out that Air Products was the source of the fumes.
Since the incident involved public employees, OSHA won’t investigate.