Today (25 September) marks the 25th anniversary of the fatal explosion at the Esso gas plant at Longford, south of Sale, a significant emergency event that impacted Victorians for many weeks.
Two Esso employees died (one of whom was Sale Fire Brigade volunteer John Lowery) and eight people were seriously injured in the incident, which resulted in a shutdown of gas supply from the Longford facility until 4 October.
Many local CFA crews were the first to attend to the resulting fire from the explosion, working alongside Esso employees.
Local tankers and pumpers from Sale, Stratford, Loch Sport, Seaspray, Longford, Traralgon, Morwell and Maryvale brigades were supported by aircraft as well as resources from Dandenong, Frankston, Boronia, Chelsea, Ferntree Gully, Scoresby and Noble Park brigades for several days.
The Longford explosion was one of the most complex firefights in the state’s history and, following a Royal Commission, led to a series of recommendations about the plant’s safety protocols.
Sale brigade firefighter Doug Brack was one of the first firefighters to arrive at the Esso plant.
“I was on the Sale truck with the captain and our role was to support Esso’s firefighters,” Doug said. “Esso’s maintenance crews were trained to fight fires and rescue people, so we supported them.
“But when the explosion happened, many operations and maintenance employees were injured.
“CFA trucks were moved around as required. One of our roles was to relay water from sources including ponds at the back of the plant. The Sale brigade pumper pumped continuously for almost two days. No CFA truck had previously pumped for so long.”
Doug, who has previously held the roles of brigade captain and group officer of the Riverslea Group, remembers the evening he joined CFA.
“I joined in 1983 on the same night as John Lowery. We were devastated by his death. I was pretty close to John. He’d been a brigade member for some time and he was well liked,” Doug said. “He enjoyed travelling with the running team to repair equipment. He didn’t take part in the events, but he liked helping people.
“The brigade took a big hit when we found out John had died. The impact on the brigade was huge.”
The brigade captain made sure Sale members received plenty of support from CFA.
Hundreds of people attended John’s funeral service at St Mary’s Cathedral.
“There were huge guards of honour from CFA and ESSO,” Doug said. “Peter Wilson, who also died in the explosion, was well known in the local area too and he had a service at the same cathedral.”
Sale brigade wants to make sure that John is not forgotten.
“The Longford explosion is part of Sale brigade’s history. We have several photos of John at the station and information about the accident, so that people remember John and know what happened.
“The life of John Lowery will always be remembered and everyone at Sale brigade will be thinking about the accident on 25 September.”
- John Lowery
- John Lowery working at the Esso plant
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