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Con Edison Media Relations
For Immediate Release: October 29, 2008
1:00 p.m.


The following communication was sent to Con Edison employees yesterday regarding the company’s investigation into the death of Distribution Splicer George J. Dillman on October 9:

Dear Colleagues,

On Thursday, October 9, 2008, I informed you with deep regret of the loss of George J. Dillman, 26, Distribution Splicer, during a manhole fire in Brooklyn that day.  The purpose of this letter is to share information about this tragic incident and to review how we plan to minimize the chance of a recurrence.  I also want to thank the Con Edison employees who responded immediately to the event and all the employees who investigated this incident.

On October 9, Mr. Dillman and his assistant were assigned to perform splicing of 120-volt cables in a manhole located at Euclid and Sutter Avenues in Brooklyn.  Just before the incident, Mr. Dillman was in the manhole, and his assistant was at the street level.  A ladder for entry and exit had been removed from the manhole so that Mr. Dillman could work there.

At approximately 12:30 p.m., a 120-volt short circuit occurred in cable leading into the manhole.  Eyewitnesses report hearing a buzzing or popping noise at approximately 12:30 p.m. followed by smoke coming from the manhole.  Mr. Dillman's assistant, who was outside the manhole, radioed for emergency assistance and placed the ladder in the manhole just as flames came up from it. He sprayed the intense flames with a fire extinguisher but was unable to put out the fire.  The FDNY, along with company crews, responded to the site shortly after receiving the emergency call.  The FDNY noted that the fire was extinguished at 12:54 p.m.  The Company crews were in the process of de-energizing all electrical lines into the manhole at this time.

In an effort to understand the facts and circumstances surrounding this tragic occurrence, the Company conducted an exhaustive investigation, including interviewing numerous witnesses.  We carefully studied the interior of the manhole and all of the cable and connections within it, as well as more than 150 feet of cable and related components that were removed from the manhole and connecting conduits.  The fire caused by the short circuit damaged cable in two conduits that were adjacent to one another; approximately 65 feet of 120-volt cable was destroyed in one conduit, and approximately 25 feet of 120-volt cable was destroyed in the other.  There was no significant damage to the 120-volt cables or connections within the manhole.  There was no damage to the two 27,000-volt cables that were also in the manhole.

Other than the sections of cable damaged by the fault, the examination did not reveal any abnormal conditions.  A video camera was inserted in the conduits that housed the damaged 120-volt cables to determine if external damage could have been the cause of the initial cable failure.  In areas where a portion of the damaged cable could not be removed, the area was excavated to inspect for signs of external damage.  No signs of external damage were found.  Atmospheric testing data, recorded prior to the event and retrieved from the manhole, did not reveal the presence of any combustible or flammable gases.  Subsequent testing of the surrounding area and subsurface structures also did not reveal any combustible or flammable gases.  Extensive testing and analysis of other potential contributing factors did not reveal any abnormal conditions or circumstances that could have caused this tragedy.

Employee Fatality

The investigation found that Mr. Dillman used all proper personal protective equipment (PPE) required for the job he was doing.  He was wearing his safety harness.  The investigation also found that Mr. Dillman’s assistant did everything he could have done to extricate his partner from the manhole. 

Prevention of Future Occurrences
In looking to the future, we first have to look to see if past incidents offer any suggestions as to how to prevent similar incidents.  We have reviewed our safety records, which date back to 1914, and this is the first time that an employee in a manhole has been fatally injured as a result of a 120-volt cable fire.  There have been cases where injuries did occur due to 120-volt arcs or fires, but these were not fatal. 

We are focusing our preventive efforts on measures to emphasize basic manhole safety.  These practices should help employees who work in manholes to recognize and remove themselves from potentially dangerous situations: 

  • While in a manhole, if there is any unusual sound, sign of smoke or anything else that is out of the ordinary, immediately exit the manhole and call for assistance to determine the next steps.  The call for assistance should be to the Control Room, which will dispatch either a troubleshooter or an appropriate supervisor to the location to further investigate.
  • Whenever a worker is in a manhole, to the extent that that is practical, a ladder should be left inside.  If the ladder has to be removed because of limited working space, it should be in a position from which the person in the manhole can reach up and extend the ladder down to the floor if necessary for immediate exit from the manhole.  If this is not possible, the assistant should keep the ladder in a position so that it can be immediately placed in the manhole if it is needed.

Next Steps
This tragic incident will be reviewed with all operating personnel during “All Hands” meetings at each workout facility in the company.  This will allow for a thorough discussion of the incident and for the opportunity to ask questions.  Wellness counselors will continue to be available to all employees as necessary.

Personal Note
During our annual safety conference that was held the Monday before the accident, I shared my personal thoughts about safety with the audience.  I explained that many years ago, I committed to a personal standard, which was that I would never ask any employee who worked for me to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself or ask my son or daughter to do.  It is with that standard in mind that we will continue to operate and maintain our energy system.

I will also attend the College Point “All Hands” meeting to review the accident with George’s closest co-workers.

Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to George’s family, fiancée, colleagues, and friends.

Lou Rana

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