Check Your Well Covers

My Generation

Little 20-month-old Lia Bertolino died last week after falling through what everyone thought was a safe, solid well cover.

Published on: July 20, 2010
I just went out to look at our well cover.

It looks solid. It looks OK. But now I'm not so sure.

I spent time on the phone this morning with Mark Bertolino. We'd done a story together a few years ago about longwall mining in Montgomery County. But today he called to tell me about his baby granddaughter, Lia. She fell into her family's well last Tuesday. She died. She was 20 months old. I can hardly comprehend.

Lia was outside with her mom and dad, and six-year-old brother. She'd been out to the barn with her dad, and was toddling back toward the house with the family's two heeler dogs, not more than a hundred feet from either parent. Her dad looked back toward the house, saw the heelers walking around strangely and knew something was wrong. Lia had just disappeared. They looked all over. Then her brother noticed a 10-inch hole in the concrete well cover. They spotted her dolly inside.  

"A week ago, I'd have said it wasn't possible for her to fall through," Mark says. "We're not talking some old rickety wooden top." 

In fact, his other son, a strapping 21-year-old, had stood on the well cover just three days before Lia fell through. Lia weighed 29 pounds. 

"Had the concrete deteriorated?" Mark wonders. The cover was built like a tank, but without rebar. The well was probably 60 to 80 years old; hard telling when the cap was poured. On one edge, concrete had begun to flake, but not enough to make anyone think it was unsafe. Mark says the hole that collapsed beneath her was hardly any bigger than her feet.

And the thing is, just about every farmstead has a well and they're usually fairly close to the house. Some of them, like ours, is actually being used. Others, like the Bertolinos, are on rural water lines and they don't even use the wells any longer. Mark's an avid hunter and says he's come across plenty in the timber that don't even have a cover on them.

Take a look at your well cover today. If you're not using it,
fill it in. If you are, consider replacing the cover. Contact your local soil and water conservation district for help and advice.

And think about the Bertolinos. 

"I can't think of anything worse than losing one of your children," Mark says. "You just can't quite grasp it. There's always a lot of questions that can't be answered. We're obviously broke. She was right between her parents. When she fell through that hole, she just vanished.

"But maybe this will help somebody else. And the loss won't be in vain."

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  1. RHiebert says:

    A young family losing a child on a farm has to be the worst experience imaginable. Recalling my experience on a farm, we were fortunate not to experience a tragedy or serious accident. There is so much work and the day is not long enough to get it all done so it's understandable that a parent will just take eyes off the little ones for just a minute and it could be too late.