George L. Schrufer, 72, a firefighter who survived one of the worst blazes in Philadelphia history, died Thursday, Dec. 18, at his home in Bridesburg. He had suffered numerous health issues since being injured in the massive Gulf Oil refinery fire in 1975.
Mr. Schrufer had been a firefighter for nine years when vapor from a Gulf Oil tanker ignited at the South Philadelphia refinery on Aug. 17, 1975. Eight firefighters were killed in the blaze, and Mr. Schrufer was disabled.
An officer at the scene of the blaze told Mr. Schrufer's daughter Charlene Schrufer Rothe that when the tank blew, "everybody was running from the building, but my dad ran into the building to save the people from his engine."
He was standing in oil up to his knees, daughter Tracey Schrufer said, and people standing in front of him died, but Mr. Schrufer "swam in the oil - he would come up until he got free of the fire."
He sustained burns on 78 percent of his body, she said, and suffered considerable internal damage.
"No one knows why, but he survived," Tracey Schrufer said.
Mr. Schrufer, a 1960 graduate of North Catholic High School and an Army veteran who served in Korea, endured multiple surgeries over several years. He left the Fire Department on disability, but never left the fire family, his daughter said.
"Once you're a fireman, you're always a fireman," Tracey Schrufer said.
Following his recovery, Mr. Schrufer went into the catering business, running Cameo Caterers in Oxford Circle. He relished the work, loving the weddings and celebrations he hosted for a decade.
The job suited his personality - always cheerful, despite the physical pain that stayed with him for the rest of his life.
"He was the most determined man, and he was well liked by anyone he met," Tracey Schrufer said. "He never stopped giving of himself."
He was an avid track and field fan, having gone to the Olympic trials for the sport, his daughters said. He even managed to continue running for a time after the fire - it helped him clear his thoughts, he told them. He completed dozens of marathons before his health caused him to stop running.
"He was great at it, and he loved it," Rothe said. "He inspired me to be a runner."
Mr. Schrufer also loved Philadelphia sports, especially college basketball. He was devoted to veterans' causes, serving as commander of his local Veterans of Foreign Wars post for a time. Despite his own health concerns, he often helped older veterans, his daughters said.
In addition to his daughters, he is survived by a grandson and a sister. His former wife, Shirley Schrufer, also survives.
A viewing will be Sunday, Dec. 21, from 3 to 6 p.m., at the Reilly Funeral Home, 2632 E. Allegheny Ave. Interment will be Tuesday, Dec. 23, at 11:30 a.m. in Washington Crossing National Cemetery.
Memorial donations may be made to the Firefighters' Widows Fund, c/o Philadelphia Fire Fighters' and Paramedics' Union, 415 N. Fifth St., Philadelphia 19123.