Today in 1975, one of the biggest oil refineries in the country - Gulf Oil Co. in Philadelphia - ignited in a fiery explosion. Hydrocarbon vapors escaped from a tank and accumulated near the boiler house causing it to explode. The flames then followed the vapor trail back to the tank causing another huge explosion. Burning petroleum spilled into a diked area surrounding the tank causing it to also blow up. The first alarm for the Philadelphia Fire Department went out shortly after the initial tank explosions, followed quickly by a second alarm. Arriving firemen found large clouds of heavy black smoke coming from the two burning tanks. Over the next few hours, firefighters fought the blaze with water and foam, and by 9:00 a.m. or so they thought they had the fire contained and stabilized, though it was still burning. However, there were other problems on the scene that would soon make the situation near-catastrophic. the refinery’s sewerage system was not adequately draining the water and petroleum-naphtha mixture that was accumulating on the ground at the scene. Suddenly there was a flash and the water was ablaze. Three firemen were trapped in the fiery waters and lost their lives as they fell into the oily waters. One firefighter managed to escape with burns that covered 26% of his body. Flames were still gushing from the burning tanks and pipelines that evening and were reported under control the next morning. Six firefighters lost their lives at the scene during the August 1975 Gulf refinery fire; two others died later of burns, and at least 14 others were treated for burns and injuries.
We will never forget the brave men who lost their lives:
Robert J. Fisher
Joseph R. Wiley