By Mark Gallo
On October 23, 2009 at approximately 12:30 a.m., residents of the San Juan area of Puerto Rico either observed or were awakened by the fire and explosions that rocked their area (see “Fire in the Sky”, October 2009). If you ask residents where they were that night, the majority remember it like it was yesterday.
Working as an EPA On-Scene Coordinator (OSC), you expect that on some days you will wake up and find yourself in the middle of chaos. One of those days for me was at the CAPECO response, an emergency response action to a fire/explosion of a major petroleum oil storage facility in Bayamon, PR. It was four days after the initial explosion when I received the call to support five other EPA OSCs already on site, one from the EPA San Juan Office and four from our EPA Edison office. I “had” a nice weekend planned, but duty calls, my flight was booked, and I found myself waking up to chaos the following day. To quote a co-worker’s response, “There’s oil EVERYWHERE!” This facility had approximately 60 million (M) gallons on site during the incident and approximately 30M gallons either consumed in the fire or released to the environment. The remaining oil was in tanks with questionable integrity!
When I arrived, the OSCs were coordinating with at least a dozen agencies, establishing an Incident Command Structure, staffing and organizing the Incident Management Team, directing clean-up contractors, ordering resources, and working logistics and plans for the coming hours, as that was how quickly conditions changed during the initial days of the response. The 24/7 operation continued well into late November of 2009, when there was some sense of security in reducing operational hours. More