ON A HOT DAY 32 YEARS AGO…

City honors 8 firefighters lost in 1975

On a hot day 32 years ago, eight city firefighters lost their lives battling an inferno at a South Philadelphia oil refinery. STORY LINK

Their sacrifice has never been forgotten, and yesterday, their names were made permanent on plaques as the city officially hailed them with speeches, bagpipes and a bell.
About 200 people, including relatives of the fallen men, gathered outside the Fireman’s Hall Museum on Second Street near Race. Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers read the names of those claimed by the Aug. 17, 1975, blaze at the Gulf Oil Refinery at Penrose and Lanier Avenues.
A bell pealed after each name was announced:
Fireman John Andrews, 49; Fireman Ralph J. Campana, 41; Fireman Robert J. Fisher, 43; Fireman Hugh McIntyre, 52; Fireman Roger T. Parker Jr., 28; Fireman Joseph R. Wiley, 33; Lt. James J. Pouliot, 35; and Fireman Carroll K. Brenek, 33. PHILLY FIRE NEWS LINK

I was eight years old. I lived in a row house in the Wissinoming section of Philadelphia. It was a typical (Sunday?) afternoon. My family and I were attending a Christening party around the corner at the house of a fellow firefighter, co-worker of my dad. In those days thats how it was.

We grew up together, attended each others weddings, funerals, christenings, birthdays, anniversaries. We celebrated good times, simple lives… we had one car. No Cable TV, no Internet. We played stick ball and street hockey from dawn till dusk and sometimes a little later. I feel old. But it is still one of the most vivid memories of my childhood.

While playing outside with the other kids, I got bit on the leg by a neighbors dog. My dad had to leave the Christening and take me to the hospital. The doctor washed it out and pronounced me good enough to go back to the party and continue playing with the other kids.

But when we got back the mood had changed drastically. It was late in the day and the radio was on. The adults were somber. Something was wrong. In a house filled with firefighters and their families you could feel it in the air. There was a fire. A big one.

Big fires were not uncommon in those days, but this one was different. The phone kept ringing. The adults talked in hushed voices and shooed the kids outside, but we kept sneaking back inside. Kids are curious. There were firemen missing, injured, killed. Who? Did we know them? Friends? Surely we would. I imagine what the families of the trapped Utah coal miners are going through and I dare say I know the feeling.

Thus, at age eight, I was introduced to the firefighting family experience. Introduced to those very sad emotions that even at a young age you understand. Feelings capable of disrupting a celebration of life with feelings of loss and sorrow. I’ll never forget it. I have felt those feelings again over the years, when someone I know is lost or injured on this job. No one does their entire career in this line of work without getting to know that feeling. Standing in formation listening to bagpipes play…it comes back.

At the end of the day the bell tolled eight times. The Gulf Oil Refinery disaster is one of the worst in the annals of the Philadelphia Fire Department. Six firemen were killed outright and two died later from burns. One Lt. James Pouliot was from my current station. A plaque still hangs on the kitchen wall in his memory. I sit there some days and drink my coffee while I watch the new guys sit at the table right under it. They are oblivious to those feelings and to the story of the Gulf Fire. For them the Gulf fire is a distant story related by some of the old timers. For me in was an indelible impression made on a young boy who got bit by a dog at a party, and was introduced to a way of life. God bless the families of our lost firefighters. May we never forget.

MEMORIAL

(Linked to OTB’s Beltway Traffic Jam.)

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