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Kansas City officials have announced that an incident at a city sewer line led to the death of a 40-year-old city water department employee, the Kansas City Star reported.
On July 22, Donald Fenton was repairing a valve on a sewer pipe behind the South Patrol Division police station at about 5:20 p.m. He was working alone, away from his colleagues, when a temporary plug in the line gave way. Other water department employees who witnessed the incident explained that they heard a sound very similar to an explosion but it was actually the sound of a rubber plug that burst up out of the sewer line it had to support, according to Jennifer Kincaid, Water Services Department spokeswoman. By the time the workers got to the sewer manhole, water had already filled the entire cavity where Fenton was.
Fenton's colleagues went in and tied his body with a rope to pull him out of the water and released the sewage by breaking the bottom of the line with a backhoe. Kincaid said that Fenton, a water department employee with a 14 years of experience, suffered fatal injuries to his head and neck, most likely when he was hit by the released plug. He was pronounced dead at the scene when paramedics arrived, she noted. Police and water service officers arrived at the scene and several fire trucks and a hazmat team remained at the scene for a few hours, it was reported. An investigation into the cause of the incident was started immediately but so far nothing has been confirmed.
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According to Kansas City Mayor Sly James, the tragedy was a stark reminder that many people in the city had to cope with dangerous and difficult jobs on a daily basis and added that their contribution to keeping the city running smoothly should be acknowledged by local residents and authorities. He also pointed out that Fenton had recently gained custody of his two teenage children. To honor the deceased worker, Kansas City flew its flags at half-staff throughout last week. Fenton's colleagues created a small memorial to commemorate him, placing his boots at the site.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will not investigate the incident, since cases involving city employees are out of its jurisdiction, a spokesperson for the administration told the Kansas City Star.
Although incidents involving water utility workers are not common in the United States, they still happen from time to time. Last May, 40-year-old Missouri American Water employee Robert W. Clark was killed while he was cutting sections of old cast-iron pipe. He was fatally injured when a gas-powered saw he was using kicked back. In November, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ruled that Missouri American Water had made two willful violations of safety regulations and ordered the company to pay a $140,000 fine.