The tragedy of Vermicino

On June 10, 1981, Alfredo Rampi, a 6-year-old boy, is on his way home, in the countryside around Frascati. In the afternoon, he is only a few meters away from his grandparents' house, but he will never return. Alarmed, the parents begin the search for their son. At 21.30 they decide to call the Police, who intervene on the spot with dog units.

The agents locate the child around midnight. The cries of little Alfredo, for everyone Alfredino, come from an artesian well, covered with a sheet metal band. Shortly afterwards, the Fire Fighters arrived from Rome. The well was 30 centimeters wide and 80 meters deep. Alfredino is stuck at 36 meters. They immediately find a way to talk to the child, to reassure him and a microphone is lowered into the well. For hours, a firefighter tries to keep Alfredino awake, telling him stories and establishing a relationship of trust with him.

In order to carry out an excavation, necessary for rescue operations, a drill is urgently needed and an appeal is launched through the radio and television stations. At 8.30 am the drill is available and the work begins. In the meantime, at the RAI headquarters in Via Teulada, the first images of the rescue operations begin to arrive, with the voice of the child captured by the microphone lowered into the well. At the end of Tg1 at 13.30 the child is about to be rescued, but unfortunately the rescue attempt fails.

The case of local news, waiting for a happy ending, turns into a dramatic event that takes place under the eyes of millions of people and disrupts the schedule for 18 long hours of live television. The emergency in Vermicino holds the country in suspense, gathered around a strip of land where rescuers try everything to save the baby in a long sequence of attempts, in which optimism and concern alternate.

On the 12th of June, the President of the Republic, Sandro Pertini, arrived in Vermicino and remained there, next to the family of the child, for the last desperate attempt to save Alfredino. It is 5:02 a.m. on 13 June when a speleologist descends into the well, reaches the child and tries to sling him. He tries again. He fails again. When he returns to the surface he announces to his parents, to Italy, that Alfredino is dead.

The tragedy of Vermicino marks a painful and important stage in the birth of the modern National Service, which starts from the awareness of the limits of the rescue system and the need for a greater coordination of the resources involved in the emergency management.

This and other emergencies - such as the Irpinia earthquake - gave rise to a civil and cultural debate that led to the overcoming of the old operational structure and to the birth, in 1982, of the Minister for the Coordination of Civil Protection and the Department of Civil Protection, within the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.

Photo: The rescue operations of little Alfredo Rampi, who fell into an artesian well in the vicinity of Rome on 10 June 1981 / National Fire Department