‘ ought I was dead for sure’
Worker recalls escape from Irving Oil explosion
First, Jonathan Wright heard a loud hissing.
Then he was thrown to the ground and turned to see a wall of orange, as ames surrounded him and several other workers after a massive explosion at the Irving Oil re nery in Saint John, N.B., on Monday morning.
e American contractor said his workspace was approximately 35 metres from the blast – and the only stairway out was blocked by ames.
“You could not see anything besides smoke and ames,” Wright said. “I thought we were done right there.”
Wright told his story Tuesday, as the re nery regrouped from the anksgiving Day explosion which shook the historic port city shortly after 10 a.m. local time and injured at least four workers.
Mayor Don Darling said Tuesday residents living near the re nery remain “very nervous,” even though the fiery incident had been stabilized.
He said the city’s large industrial base comes with risks and there needs to be a broader discussion about the interaction between residents and industry.
At the time of the explosion, there were as many as 3,000 workers on the site.
Wright, 43, an electronics technician from Florida, said he’s worked at re neries around the world for 11 years, but has never experienced anything like Monday’s drama.
“It was a (expletive) nightmare, I’ve never seen anything like that in my entire life,” Wright said in an interview on Tuesday. “I thought I was dead for sure.” Wright said he had to jump through high scaffolding and pipes several metres in the air to escape.
He didn’t realize his coworkers were behind him until after he was outside, and he thought they were likely killed.
Once he got outside, Wright left the premises after getting a ride with someone else who was about to pull out of the parking lot.
e Floridian said he feels lucky to have escaped, and lucky that neither he nor his coworkers were severely burned. He said he pulled muscles and sustained scrapes and cuts in the clamber to escape.
“It was just a blur getting out of there. I just never imagined jumping through all that stu , pipes and sca olding and stu . I just never thought that would happen to me, but you know, it did. I just can’t believe we weren’t burned.”
Wright was ying home to Florida Wednesday, and said most of all, he is looking forward to hugging his kids and his ancee when he lands.
Irving Oil tweeted Tuesday that the site of the incident is “isolated and contained,” and said workers would be back to work on Tuesday evening.
Eric Brideau, assistant director of investigations with Worksafe NB, said Tuesday the investigation will focus on occupational health and safety issues.
“We want to nd the cause to make sure it doesn’t occur again â€¦ We can write orders or it can go all the way to a prosecution, that’s just a potential,” Brideau said.
“A re nery is a very complex piece of equipment and Irving as a contractor and owner of the business, they obviously have a very large responsibility to ensure the health and safety.”
Darling called the city’s emergency response to the explosion “fantastic,” but said the city needs to ensure it has proper plans in place to protect residents.
He said there will still be an extensive review of the city’s handling of the incident, including its communication with residents.
“We live in a world of almost instantaneous communication ... so I think communications need to be reviewed - and I think the relationship that we have with our industrial partners in our city needs to be reviewed as well,” he said, noting there have been other industrial accidents in the city.
“We have a very, very high concentration of industry here in Saint John and I think we’ve gone through a series of butane leaks and explosions and res and I think it has people very nervous and rightly so - we have to have that broader discussion about the interactions and interface between the city and the industrial players in our city.”
An Irving o cial told reporters Monday there had been a malfunction in the re nery’s diesel treating unit, where sulphur is removed from diesel fuel.
Irving’s website says the re nery produces more than 320,000 barrels of “ nished energy products” every day.
Flame and smoke erupts from the Irving Oil re nery in Saint John, N.B., on Monday following an explosion at the plant.