Four employees of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery in South Philadelphia, which was badly damaged by fire in June, were among dozens honored Sunday as part of the annual “Recognition Day” by the Philadelphia Firefighters & Paramedics Union Local 22.

The ceremony recognizes firefighters, paramedics and citizens for heroic acts in the last year.

By taking swift, critical actions, Barbara McHugh, Sal Diberardo, Dave Farrell and Sean McElhinney were credited with preventing the massive fire on June 21 at the largest East Coast refinery from becoming deadly. Five people were injured in the predawn blaze.

The damage, however, has led to the refinery, which employed 1,100 people, shutting down and filing for bankruptcy protection. Just a caretaker staff of 83 remains.

The PES refinery fire as seen from the Passyunk Avenue drawbridge on June 21, 2019.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
The PES refinery fire as seen from the Passyunk Avenue drawbridge on June 21, 2019.

According to Inquirer reports and information provided at Sunday’s banquet, held in the Southampton Room of the Painters & Glaziers Union Hall in Northeast Philadelphia:

McHugh was a console operator in the central control room who hit a button that transferred highly dangerous hydrofluoric acid away from the blast area in Unit 433 and into a separate holding tank, averting a potential catastrophe. Diberardo, Farrell, and McElhinney climbed refinery pipes under fiery conditions and shut down the valves to stop the fuel to the fire.

Also recognized Sunday were nearly two dozen firefighters and medic unit operators who responded to a house fire on July 7 at Locust and Chew Avenues in East Germantown, rescuing three people from the building, including a woman who initially had no pulse or respiration but eventually was revived.

The awards event originated from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and is scheduled each year as close to that date as possible.

Firefighters and paramedics from 4 engines, 2 ladders and medic units are given awards and citations for heroism and distinguished service in the saving of three lives during a July 7, 2019 fire at Locust and Chew Avenues in East Germantown.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Firefighters and paramedics from 4 engines, 2 ladders and medic units are given awards and citations for heroism and distinguished service in the saving of three lives during a July 7, 2019 fire at Locust and Chew Avenues in East Germantown.