KYW In Depth: Inferno at the refinery — a firsthand account

Refinery Fire
Photo credit @1NICETOWNBEAN/Twitter
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) —  KYW Newsradio goes in depth with a special podcast presentation on the fire at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery.  

In the early hours of June 21, 2019, a massive explosion and fire at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery shook South Philadelphia. Fireballs were seen in the sky, with videos on social media showing the dark morning sky lit up in bright orange seen from miles away.  

Investigations are still ongoing as to what exactly caused the fire, but air quality concerns among residents shot up immediately. While the city promised residents that the air is safe and there are no long-term negative effects to residents' health from the fire, community members were still concerned. 

Protestors gathered near the plant four days after the fire, demanding the plant's closure. A day later, Mayor Jim Kenney confirmed the refinery will be shut down, and unionized workers have expressed concerns about their futures. 

In this podcast, KYW Newsradio's Carol MacKenzie talks to Terrence Ford, a refinery operator, and Ryan O'Callaghan, a refinery operator and president of United Steelworkers Local 10-1. Both Ford and O'Callaghan have worked at the refinery for 13 years. 

Together, they take a look at what happened the day of the fire and what will happen to the plant and its workers with plans of shutting it down. 

In this clip, Ford, who was working at the time of the fire, tells MacKenzie the refinery workers snapped into emergency response mode immediately.

Ford: "It's difficult to deal with a situation like that, but we have been trained. It's part of our training to deal with fires in the refinery. A lot of situations, it's not 'what do I do next,' it's just autopilot. You hit switches. Hit valves. Close things. Call the emergency response numbers. Get the fire department on standby or get everyone moving. It's reflex after a while."

Here, MacKenzie asks O'Callaghan what will happen to the refinery's workers if it closes. 

O'Callaghan: "I have no idea. Like Terrence said, there's refining companies from around the country and overseas that are looking for experienced operators, so they may have to go there. It's gonna affect the direct employees of PES, but also a lot more people. Estimated about 30,000 people will lose part or all of their salary, if the refinery closes."