BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Baltimore city officials have identified the DPW worker who was found dead after falling into a Baltimore wastewater treatment vat of water as Trina Cunningham.

Cunningham was a longtime public employee of 20 years, and had been at the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant in Curtis Bay for three years.


Cunningham seen on the left. Courtesy: Baltimore City Office of the Labor Commissioner

She was a supervisor for the Department of Public Works, and had been walking along a catwalk inside the building when she fell into 20 feet of water.

“Inside the water filtration plant there’s a catwalk going across a water filtration system. She was walking across the catwalk and fell,” said Blair Adams with Baltimore City Fire.

Her body was later found in a filtration system 600 feet away from where DPW workers believe a bridge gave way, plunging Cunningham into an inescapable vat of churning water.

“Lots of those facts are under investigation,” said Baltimore DPW Director Rudolph Chow. “We don’t have all the pieces yet,”

Chow said what led up to her death is under investigation.

But, tense calls between first responders described an alleged infrastructure failure.

“What I’ve been told is that on the third level of the plant, a worker was up on the landing, the grate is missing, and tools are still up on the landing,”

“There were two items that belonged to her that were in the location of where the missing grate was, which was a glove and, I believe, a walkie-talkie,” said Blair Adams with Baltimore City Fire.

Firefighters believe Cunningham fell through a catwalk that spans the water filtration system.

Employees spotted the missing grate first– then realized their boss had vanished.

As firefighters raced to shut off the water Monday night and then searched a section of the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant where Cunningham had been a supervisor for the last three years.

“Very dedicated, committed employee. In fact, this person was nominated, was awarded one of our employee of the month awards in the past,” Chow said.

Monday night, a DPW spokesperson said the catwalks, bridges, tanks and everything inside the building will be inspected for safety.

The City Union of Baltimore said they were “deeply saddened” by Cunningham’s death.

“All of us here at the City Union of Baltimore (CUB) are deeply saddened at the tragic death of Trina Cunningham. Beyond being a CUB member and faithful employee of the city of Baltimore she was a wife, mother, sister, and daughter. Each of her colleagues spoke highly of her commitment and dedication to the job. It pains us that a person with so much life ahead of them dies so young and tragically.

This also calls into question workplace safety protocols for the women and men who make sure our public works are safe for us. Each employee, private or public, deserves a safe work environment to do their job. While this is the first fatality at this facility that we know of, any fatality at the workplace is unacceptable. Our employees deserve to have working conditions that are fully compliant with state and federal regulations.

We await the results of the investigation and pending those results we look forward to working with AFSCME and the Office of the Labor Commissioner to ensure each and every worksite is safe and healthy for city employees.”

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