brigade fire chief, dead at 61
Jerry Craft, an undisputed leader in industrial fire fighting who, as a brigade fire chief, battled one of the epic refinery fires of the 20th century, died Tuesday (May 20) at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, LA, following a massive stroke several days earlier. He was 61.
A lead firefighter and manager of consulting and training for Williams Fire & Hazard Control, Craft also served as the fire chief of a major Baton Rouge refinery for 13 years. On Christmas Eve 1989, a devastating explosion and fire at the refinery ignited 16 storage tanks and set ablaze 15 acres of the facility in one of the worst industrial accidents in U.S. history.
Despite the mammoth size of the emergency, Baton Rouge firefighters were able to extinguish it within 15 hours. This amazing outcome was achieved despite unseasonably cold weather and a lack of water to fight the fire with because of damaged water mains.
Craft detailed the effort to gain control of the blaze in the March-April 2007 issue of Industrial Fire World:
Epic Christmas 1989 Fire Hits Baton Rouge Refinery
Craft also gained notoriety in February 1999 as a chief advisor to emergency officials when a freighter carrying a load of heavy bunker fuel ran aground on a beach near Coos Bay, OR, threatening to pollute the coastline. It was Craft's suggestion that the remaining oil in the freighter be ignited and burned off before major damage could occur. This event was detailed in the March-April 1999 issue of Industrial Fire World:
FIRE IN THE HOLD
Experts Torch Grounded Freighter to Protect Oregon Coast
Other major events in Craft's career chronicled in IFW included a May 1991 nitroparaffin plant explosion in Sterlington, LA, (http://www.fireworld.com/ifw_articles/nitroparaffin.php) and an April 1993 coker fire at his Baton Rouge refinery (http://www.fireworld.com/ifw_articles/coker_99.php).
A native of Dallas, Craft is survived by his wife, Barbara W. Craft; mother, Jewel Craft; two sons, Rance Lamar Craft and wife Meredith, and Chase David Craft; sister, Johnsye Campbell; and two beloved dogs, Mac and Jocko. He was preceded in death by his father, Belton Lamar Craft.
Visitation will be at Rabenhorst Funeral Home East, 11000 Florida Blvd., from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, May 23. Visitation will continue at the funeral home chapel on from 11 a.m. until religious services at 1 p.m., Saturday, May 24. Services will be conducted by the Rev. Wayne Austin. Entombment will be in Greenoaks Mausoleum.
In lieu of flowers, please make memorial donations to Healing Place Church, 19202 Highland Road, Baton Rouge, LA 70809, or The Louisiana State Firemen's Association, Death Benefit Fund, P.O. Box 1671, Gretna, LA 70054.