$30,000 DAMAGE IN QUAKER STATE
OIL REFINERY FIRE
Heroic Fire Fighters Save Big Valley Plant Early Tuesday
McKean County Democrat, July 18, 1940
Fire at the Farmers Valley plan of
the Quaker State Oil Refining Corporation at 4:00 o’clock
Tuesday morning caused damage
estimated yesterday at $30,000.
Destruction of a major portion of the big industry was averted
by courageous efficient efforts of the Smethport, Eldred and
Port Allegany fire departments, plant officials and workmen
Cause is Unknown
Exact cause of the blaze is unknown but it is believed that
vapor escaped from tanks in the heat of the refinery and was
ignited by a furnace.
Weather was ideal for accumulation of explosive vapor along
the ground. The humidity was high in spite of thunderstorms
earlier in the night and no was breeze blowing.
Plant Will Not Shut Down
It will be necessary to make extensive repairs before runs of
crude oil to stills can be resumed but the refinery will continue
to process large stocks on hand.
Repair Work Started
Men were immediately started on repair work as soon as the fire
was extinguished Tuesday morning. Guy B. Hunter of Emlenton,
Pa., superintendent of manufacturing of the Quaker State Corporation,
came here on Tuesday to confer with W. H. Rockman, manager of
the Farmers Valley refinery, and other officials.
Damage is Listed
Principal loss in the fire was four 500-barrel tanks of oil
and naphtha, were badly damaged by the terrific heat and it
will be necessary to either repair or replace them.
A large amount of pipe was destroyed.
Alarm Sounded Here
Leonard Lathrop of Crosby, still-man in charge on the midnight
shift at the plant; his helper, Frank Petruzzi of Smethport;
William Fox, night watchman and Richard Conn of Smethport, refinery
pumper, discovered the fire shortly after 4:00 a.m. Tuesday.
John Orlandi, a refinery workman, called the Smethport Fire
Department and plant employees took prompt action to start the
refinery’s own extensive fire-fighting equipment.
A general alarm was sounded in Smethport and the first pumper
left the hose house just two minutes later. The rapid response
of the firemen was remarkable in view of the fact that it was
just about the worst hour of the night for a call to come in.
Chief of Police James McCabe had the doors open and the truck
engines running when the firemen arrived.
All three S. F. D. pumpers were rushed to Farmers Valley and
were quickly placed in operation under the direction of Fire
chief Roy O’Laughlin.
George Brown, refinery fire warden and a member of the Smethport
Fire department, left on the first pumper.
Residents of the town, awakened by the alarm, observed a flickering
glow in the sky over the North town hill and promptly identified
the refinery as the source of the flames. The blaze could be
plainly seen when several tanks exploded.
Calls for aid were sent later to the Eldred and Port Allegany
fire departments, which responded quickly.
Wellsville, Warren, Kane and Bradford Fire Departments offered
to send aid as soon as they learned of the fire, but their services
were not needed.
At the height of the fire, five pumpers were supplying 19 streams
of hose and the refinery’s own system of two 750-gallon-per-minute
It was estimated that ten tons of “foamite,” a powder
which is injected into a fire hose along with water, was used.
The “foamite” forms a heavy blanket of suds and
is effective in smothering oil fires where water is not only
useless but may actually spread the blaze.
P. J. Meglivern, Quaker State purchasing agent, sent calls for
additional “foamite” to the Kendall refinery in
Bradford, the Socony-Vacuum refinery in Olean, the Sinclair
refinery in Wellsville and the United Refinery in Warren. Trucks
from those plants were rushed to Farmers Valley. The additional
material was requested when the fire threatened to spread to
other portions of the plant.
The American-LaPrance Co. of Elmira, N. Y., sent two trucks,
each loaded with 12.5 tons of “foamite,” to Farmers
Valley. The trucks were rushed here by police escort.
Firemen did fine work in keeping streams of water on a number
of tanks threatened by the intense heat. Refinery pumpers emptied
nearby tanks as rapidly as possible.
There was an ample supply of water from the refinery’s
lines and Coe Creek, which passes through the plant.
Suffer Minor Injuries
In spite of the dangerous nature of the blaze, only minor injuries
were suffered by fire fighters.
Clair Griffin sustained a laceration of the leg when he fell
while running to escape flames from an exploding tank and Fire
Marshal George Brown’s hands were slightly burned by steam.
The fire was extinguished by 9:00 a. m.
Company is Grateful
Yesterday the Quaker State Oil Refining Corporation made an
official statement to the Democrat, expressing its gratitude
for the courageous and efficient work of the fire fighters.
The company is also grateful for the speedy cooperation of those
who sent supplies of “foamite” and appreciates the
offers of assistance from fire departments, which were not needed.
Officers Direct Traffic
Patrolmen E. A. Ickes and Henry Gorski of the Smethport sub-station,
Pennsylvania Motor Police, and local fire police directed traffic
during the fire and did a fine job.
The Roosevelt Highway (U. S. Route 6) passes through the plant.
Traffic was detoured via Bordell and Rew Highways.
Loss Covered By Insurance
The refinery’s loss is simply covered by insurance.
Vacation Next Week
The fire did not disrupt plans for a plant shutdown next week
to permit refinery employees to enjoy a week’s vacation
• Only a skeleton crew will work during the annual vacation
period. The men who work next week will receive their vacations
at other times.