When Belvoir Fire and Emergency Services Battalion Chief Kevin Roberson looked into a call of unexploded ordnance on post, he was stunned by what he discovered. It was not an explosive, but something else that could just as easily lead to loss of life … an open manhole, with some books down inside. That indicated that some child or teenager had been using this as a place to hide and read.
“Open, unprotected manholes are absolutely prohibited anywhere on base,” said Scott Bruning, with the Garrison Safety Office. “An open manhole has physical barriers around it, and a manhole will never be open unless there are workers nearby and actively working.”
Manholes are confined spaces, and are not designed to be inhabited. Rotting material and human waste can create hydrogen sulfide gas, which can quickly dull your sense of smell, meaning you cannot notice as the gas gets stronger. Exposure to even low levels of the gas irritates the eyes, causes a sore throat, shortness of breath and a fluid accumulation in the lungs – similar to COVID-19 symptoms.
Stormwater detention vaults are underground confined spaces to collect rainwater. They also collect roadside litter, tree debris, rats and water snakes.
“Manholes are industrial spaces, and are no place for teens or children,” said Bruning. “If you see an open manhole and workers are not on the scene, report the hazard.”
In any of the Villages, call 703-619-3880, Housing Office maintenance.
If you see an open manhole elsewhere on post, call DPW Aleut at 703-806-3017, or the police non-emergency number at 703-806-3384.
Bruning said the danger of these spaces cannot be over-emphasized. Confined space rescue is very difficult from sewers and manholes, as the victim usually dies within a few minutes of entering the hazardous confined space.