One man dead, another injured after falling into manhole

Two men fall into a manhole at Prices Airport

A dramatic rescue attempt in Fenton Township is not enough to save one worker who fell into a manhole.

NBC25 talked with one man who risked it all to try and help some strangers from certain death.

Schwan Representative Paul Burt was delivering to a home in Linden shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday when he heard the police siren.

He rushed across the street to Prices Airport and found that two workers had fallen 20 feet into a manhole and were floating face down in two feet of water.

He didn't hesitate to jump in.

I was a firefighter in the military with confined space rescue training, so it felt right at home doing that stuff, said Burt.

Burt helped Linden Police Officer Gary Conklin who was already in the hole, to try and stabilize 30-year-old Joseph Filpansick and 46-year-old Ronald Utica.

Then after that, we wrapped a rope around one gentleman to hold him out of the water, and I was down there for probably six minutes or so and I was starting to get light-headed. And I knew it was time to get out of there before I became a victim myself, said Burt.

The manhole was filled with methane gas, which authorities say had overwhelmed the workers causing them to fall.

Linden Chief of Police Scott Sutter says he's proud his officer put his life on the line.

I asked him why he did this, and he said, ~That's why I signed up to do this job. TM That just gives me goose-pimples because that is exactly the attitude of what a police officer should have, said Chief Sutter.

Sadly, authorities say Utica died at the hospital and Filpansick is recovering from a skull fracture.

A tragic end to a heroic recovery effort.

Chief Sutter says the City of Linden will recognize Officer Gary Conklin for his bravery.

The Genesee County Sheriff says Joseph Filpansick was working for Fenton-based Nix Construction, and Ronald Utica worked for Bender and Pociask Construction out of Tecumseh.

The Michigan Department of Transportation says the contracting companies were working to connect sewer lines to the new airport administration building as part of a state funded improvement project.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident.

A spokesperson says there is proper protocol when dealing with a confined space, such as a manhole.

Workers are supposed to test the atmosphere to see if it is flammable before they enter.

If they have to go in, they would have to use some type of respiratory protection, possible rescue equipment lifeline, have rescue personnel around, it depends on what they detect right there, said Patricia Meyer, Director of Construction Safety and Health Division with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

MIOSHA says if safety violations are found, because a fatality was involved fines start at $7,000.