Toxic Gases in Cistern Caused Death of Construction Worker

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Virgin Islands Medical Examiner Francisco Landron released his findings last week that toxic gases were to blame in the death of 43-year-old Fritzner Referve, who died in the early morning hours of Friday, May 22, after he collapsed the previous day while working in a cistern at a home under construction in Fish Bay.

Referve died several hours after collapsing upon entering the recently poured concrete cistern, and another man of St. John was treated at Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center and released. The recovered man is said to be doing well and is back on the job.

Referve suffered “acute damage to the lungs,” Landron said in published reports. Toxicological studies will be done, according to reports.

Referve went into the cistern, which had been poured two to three weeks prior to the incident, to begin stripping formwork and almost immediately lost consciousness, according to those on the scene. The St. John man who went into the cistern after Referve moved in and out of consciousness.

“The first man was immediately overcome and passed out face down in the cistern from what we’re told,” said St. John Rescue Chief Gilly Grimes, who responded to the call for help. “The other guy started losing consciousness as well. The homeowner tried to go into the cistern as well and soon realized he couldn’t breathe.”

St. John Rescue volunteer Preston Pollock, who was first to arrive on the scene, gave oxygen to the homeowner and tied a line around the other two men to pull them out, Grimes continued.

Rescue personnel commenced CPR on Referve, who was not breathing and had no pulse when he was pulled from the cistern, Grimes explained.

“He was dead when they pulled him out,” said Grimes. “They brought him back with CPR and got his heart going again. We were intubating him, and at that point EMS was on scene.”

Referve, who was never alert after being pulled from the cistern, was transported to MKSCHC by EMS. The man coded twice on the way to the health center, according to Grimes. Referve was transported to Roy L. Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas at 12:50 p.m. that afternoon, and was pronounced dead there at 3:42 a.m. on Friday, May 22.

 “I never got a whiff of the cistern myself, so I don’t know what was down in there,” said Grimes. “Usually when concrete cures, it sucks all the oxygen out. I don’t know if that was the case here, but it was definitely some form of oxygen deprivation.”

Curing concrete is a chemical process which releases carbon dioxide, however the coroner’s report did not point to this as the cause for Referve’s death.

“I never got a whiff of the cistern myself, so I don’t know what was down in there,” said Grimes. “Usually when concrete cures, it sucks all the oxygen out. I don’t know if that was the case here, but it was definitely some form of oxygen deprivation.”

Curing concrete is a chemical process which releases carbon dioxide.

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