Safety at refinery called into question

April 26, 2013 8:25:19 PM PDT
The Bayway Refinery in Linden pumps out 238,000 barrels of fuel a day making it the largest refinery on the East Coast. Occasionally, the process can be dangerous.

"An explosion and a lot of windows broke out," said Joseph Santos, a Linden resident.

Exclusive video obtained by Eyewitness News shows an inferno of 30-foot tall flames following a Bayway explosion in 2008.

No one was injured, in part because of the quick response of the refinery's own fire department which had 10 full-time firefighters.

"There have been major incidents in the past few years but thankfully we've been able to contain them. In the future, I don't know what the future holds," said Gary Doherty, Union President.

Refinery worker and Union President Gary Doherty says the refinery owner is cutting back on fire safety putting workers and the community in danger.

"Are you just trying to scare people?" Eyewitness News investigative reporter Jim Hoffer asked.

"Uh no, we're not trying to scare people, we're trying to educate people, we're trying to convince management that they're making a mistake," Doherty said.

The Union says Bayway's Fire Department has been reduced from 10 full-time firefighters in 2008 to seven today.

That means during the night shift, there is only one full-time fire fighter on duty at the nation's second largest refinery.

"Managers made it clear to us that this is to save money, and we ask, at what cost?" Doherty said.

Bayway's owner Phillips 66 says it maintains robust emergency response capabilities.

A spokesman told Eyewitness News that only one full-time firefighter position has been cut and that more than 100 workers at the refinery have been trained to respond to emergencies.

But Eyewitness News has also learned that the volunteer rescue squad had its firefighting training eliminated.

That caused nearly half of the refinery workers on the 48-man volunteer fire brigade to quit the squad.

"They turned in their gear and they no longer volunteer to come in and fight fires in the refinery," Doherty said.

"Why? They're that fearful?" Hoffer asked.

"They fear for their safety," Doherty said.

As do some families in the densely populated area surrounding the refinery where within a three-mile radius there are dozens of schools and tens of thousands of homes.

"People don't want to live next to a refinery that's cutting down on its fire department," said Luisa Silva, a Linden resident.

"Response time is critical, you need as much manpower there as fast as you can before something gets out of hand," said Bruce Taylor, a Linden resident.

Phillips 66 says it has reversed its decision to cut firefighting training for Bayway's rescue squad resulting in a return of several volunteers who had quit the fire brigade.

But Eyewitness News has been told that earlier this week, a training class had to be cancelled because of a lack of volunteers.


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