‘ ought I was dead for sure’

Worker re­calls es­cape from Irv­ing Oil ex­plo­sion

Truro Daily News - - COLCHESTER COUNTY -

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 … 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.

STEPHEN MACGILLIVRAY/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Flame and smoke erupts from the Irv­ing Oil re nery in Saint John, N.B., on Mon­day fol­low­ing an ex­plo­sion at the plant.

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