Gas from rotting fish injures fishing boat crewmen while boat docked in Rockland Harbor

Fri, 08/23/2013 - 4:00pm

Story Location:
Front Street
Rockland, ME 04841
United States

    ROCKLAND — Rockland Fire and EMS and Thomaston Ambulance crews were called to the O'Hara bait shop on Front Street, along Rockland's waterfront, for a report of at least two injured fishing boat crew inside a fishing boat's hold.

    Rockland Asst. Fire Chief Adam Miceli said, "Thankfully they had just brought them out onto the deck from down below as we arrived."

    Miceli said the incident started just before 1 p.m. when one of the crew of Starlight began descending a ladder into the hold and was overcome by toxic fumes. Miceli said the crewman fell off the ladder and landed in the bottom of the hold, where he remained unconscious. A second crewman headed down to help and he too was overcome.

    "The second crewman did not lose consciousness, but he was unable to do anything but cough and try to catch his breath," said Miceli. “He couldn’t help the first guy and he couldn’t help himself get out.”

    What happened next, said Miceli, was textbook perfect. A third crewman donned a breathing mask and brought another mask down to the conscious crewman, who quickly began to recover enough to get out of the hold with some assistance. The masked rescuer also put fresh air onto the unconscious man and they began pumping fresh air into the hold, to help clear the very poisonous and flammable gas. Very quickly, they were able to get a rope around him and with help from other rescuers, they were able to get him up onto the deck and into fresh air.

    Miceli said the first injured crewman never regained consciousness at the scene.

    "At first they thought it was Freon gas, but we got a gas monitor inside the hold and it registered the gas as hydrogen sulfide, which is a product of decaying organic matter, such as fish," said Miceli. "The gas is heavier than air, so the concentration of the hydrogen sulfide was greater at the bottom of the hold, and we estimate the first man was down there for 7-10 minutes. I don't know how bad the concentration was at the bottom, where he was laying, but it's a given he was down in the worst of it the longest."

    The unconscious male was taken to Pen Bay Medical Center by a Rockland ambulance, and he was immediately transferred to Maine Medical Center via a Lifeflight of Maine helicopter. The second man was also taken to Pen Bay by a Thomaston ambulance and the third man, who went into the hold, as well as the other three rescuers topside, were all uninjured or refused transport to the hospital.

    Miceli praised the quick and accurate thinking of the crew and being able to move the victims out of harm's way.

    "With only four of us on duty and the potential to have to rescue people as well as treat them, this could have really turned into a much bigger situation," said Miceli. "They did exactly the right thing in donning masks and bringing fresh air to the others. This could have been a quickly taxing and overwhelming situation for us, so when we got there and didn't have to get them out, we were able to immediately tend to their medical needs."

    Editorial Director Holly S. Edwards can be reached at or 706-6655.