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 OldChesterPa.com: Sun Oil Co. Fire
Fall 1946

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FIRE AT 15 PLANT, SUN OIL CO.
FALL 1946

Excerpt from Autobiography of Everett S. Snyder,
as requested by his children. Written in 2003 AD

I had returned to the USA from the SW Pacific Theater in Feb. of this year, had married my writing pal and settled down by returning to my job at Sun Oil Co. We were living in an apartment right on Post Road in Trainer, and any action on that road was easily detected by its distinct sound. We were near Marcus Hook's Viscose Fire Co. and the siren sound was loud and clear.

One evening in October we were sitting in our second floor Apartment living Room when we heard the sound of sirens wailing, trucks going at a fast pace toward Chester. This kept up for some time, then we heard the excited voices of people talking in the street. Donning our jackets, we went down to see what was happening. At this point we were told that there was a major fire at 15 Plant (100 Octane Aircraft Fuel Plant) and I realized that that was where I had been working, in the Laboratory, very close to where the fire was taking place. Being young and not at all experienced in firefighting at Refineries, I took a concerned view of my place of employment, so I decided to go and see if there was anything I could do to help! Betty decided that she wanted to get a closer view, also, and we set out to get a better vantage point. Of course, we could not see the fire from where we stood when we made that decision. Traffic was stopped altogether on Post Road, so we went south through Linwood, on Ridge Road, to make our approach. Arriving at Blueball Avenue in Linwood, we sought a parking place and finally found one. There were many people standing on the bridge where it crossed the Pa. RR, and it was a clear view, and what a sight! This was truly a "Major Fire.'

As I recall, the fire was located in the vicinity of three Distillation Towers, and there was an eerie high-pitched sound in the air. It looked like there were flames going skyward at multiple locations, and one Tower was particularly giving off high flaring flames. It was an incendiary holocaust, and I made a decision to get closer to see what I could do to aid the fight to quell it. Looking back now, that was not a wise decision!

Leaving my wife on the Bridge, she had found friends, I continued toward the fire. Now I was getting excited, and started running toward the blaze. When I got within a half block of the fire, I heard all the men around it begin to yell excitedly, so I stopped. Before me was a most fearsome sight. The largest Tower was beginning to topple over, and I saw that it was falling straight in my direction. The noise got to be deafening as the Tower leaned over more and more, but luckily for me, cracks appeared in it's side, and the flames shot out as more fuel was spilled into the air. If the top had blown off, it would have been a giant flame-thrower headed right toward me!

Now I was running full tilt away from it, but when those flames roared up the whole area heated intensely, and immediately. That was when the men perished who were fighting the flames. I could feel the heat immediately on the back of my neck, and pulled my jacket over my head to shield myself from this danger. I covered the ground quickly after that, and barely. remembered that when I crossed the main road a truck came careening around the corner, and by a split second I ran past the front of it, pushing at the driver side fender to get clear, but I made it!

What a sight met my eyes when I started to retrace my steps down Blueball Avenue toward the RR Bridge! In the roadway were shoes of all kinds, and pocketbooks lying in all directions. People literally ran out of their shoes getting away, and the panic, which we all felt, fostered this quick self-protective action thereby leaving a trail easy to follow. 

Shortly after this I rejoined my wife and our friends, talked for a short while, but we had lost all interest in this tragic scene. We went home to the safety of our Apartment, and were grateful to make it back in one piece. What a night!

I heard it said, though I have never really checked on it, that eight good Firefighters were lost during that Flare-up, and others were so badly burned that they died later. One of those who died later was Billy Ward, husband of our Pastor's daughter, Ruth Wooten Ward. As I recall, his demise happened in this manner.

Billy was a Fireman on call, and he answered the summons when the siren sounded the alarm. He was one of the Firefighters at the base of the Tower when it leaned over and spewed fire in their direction. Billy had stripped to the waist, as several of them did at that fire, and when the Tower fell he jumped under the Fire Truck for protection. The flame lasted only a matter of seconds during this flare-up, but it was enough to burn the exposed lower back, though at this time he was experiencing no pain. He crawled out from under the truck, and someone looked at him and said that he should get to the Hospital. Billy was taken up Post Road directly to the Chester or Crozier Hospital, and if my memory serves me, I was told he walked in to the Emergency Room unaided. Upon examining him, the Doctor administered some painkiller, and directed that he be put to bed. In a short while, due to the drug, he fell asleep. At about 5:00 or so in the morning, he awoke, was wracked with pain, and died shortly thereafter. The shock had probably been the quick killer. At any rate, his internal organs were burned badly, and under the medicine of that day probably could not have lived.

Like many of the men at that disaster, Billy was a brave Hero, fighting against a Fire that was more than they could handle, but they pressed on doing what they could! The fire finally burned itself out, after the gasoline feed to it was finally cut off. I will always remember those men with the deepest respect and admiration. It was HOT down there.

Rewritten for the record June 25, 2004

Everett S. Snyder
Lewes, DE


Additional Recollections:

"I worked in the Lab at Sun Oil during the war years... One night while working the second shift at 15 plant I was talking on the phone to the young man who brought my samples. The next thing I knew I was blown across the room.  The young man I was talking to was killed.

"After I married, I was waiting for my orders (I was joining my husband in occupied Europe.  He was Regular Air Force.)  Anyhow there was a tremendous explosion...I think it was 15 plant again.

"The way we got the story the young "Volunteer" firemen were called in to fight the fire, and a second explosion caught them.  They were all horribly burned.

"I immediately went to the hospital to see what I could do to help.  I believe your Dad [John A. Bullock, Jr.] was there that night as well.  I know the president of Sinclair showed-up and was given a mop and told to mop the hall!  It was total chaos.

"The halls were full of patients and the emergency vehicles just kept bringing them in.

"I was asked if I had any experience and said I was a Nurses Aide, so they put me in the operating room assisting the nurse on duty there.  The Doctor was removing the dead skin from a victim (who later died) and I simply held a pan to receive it.  Within a very few minutes the nurse fainted dead away, hit her head on a doorstop and was admitted as a patient.  The Doctor was furious and barked at me "You!  Take over."  So I did.

"I worked there (Crozier) four or five weeks, 10 hours a day, until my orders came through for Europe."

Thelma Knox


 

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If you have any information and or pictures that you would like to contribute about any businesses in Chester, please forward it to john@oldchesterpa.com


2004 John A. Bullock III.

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