Bills drafted to protect gas company workers

Promp­ted by a ex­plo­sion that claimed the life of a young Fox Chase man in mid-Janu­ary, some le­gis­lat­ors from North­east Phil­adelphia are spon­sor­ing bills that will ex­tend state death be­ne­fits to the sur­viv­ors of mu­ni­cip­al gas util­ity work­ers who die while re­spond­ing to emer­gen­cies.

On Aug. 18, loc­al law­makers an­nounced the bills in­tro­duced in the state House and Sen­ate. The meas­ures were promp­ted by the death of Mark Kee­ley, 19, a Phil­adelphia Gas Works em­ploy­ee who died when leak­ing nat­ur­al gas ig­nited at Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue and Dis­ston Street in Ta­cony on Jan. 18.

State law cur­rently provides for death be­ne­fit pay­ments of $100,000 to the sur­viv­ors of law en­force­ment of­ficers, fire­fight­ers and oth­er emer­gency work­ers who die on their jobs. No such be­ne­fit goes to the sur­viv­ors of PGW or oth­er gas util­ity work­ers who die while work­ing at scenes of emer­gen­cies.

The amend­ments to the state’s Emer­gency and Law En­force­ment Per­son­nel Death Be­ne­fit Act will change that.

State Sen. Mike Stack (D-5th dist.) said gas work­ers put their lives on the line while on their jobs. Their sur­viv­ors should get the same death be­ne­fits af­forded to the fam­il­ies of po­lice and fire­fight­ers, he said.

“Mu­ni­cip­al gas work­ers are pub­lic em­ploy­ees, too, and they need the same be­ne­fits,” said Stack, who is spon­sor­ing the Sen­ate ver­sion of the meas­ure.

Kee­ley’s fam­ily, Phil­adelphia Gas Works rep­res­ent­at­ives, state Reps. Brendan Boyle, John Sabat­ina and Kev­in Boyle, and City Coun­cil­man at-large Jim Ken­ney joined Stack at last week’s an­nounce­ment at the Gas Work­ers’ Uni­on Hall on Mar­shall Street.

“I don’t think many people were aware of the risks PGW work­ers take un­til this winter’s tragedy,” said Brendan Boyle (D-170th dist.), who is spon­sor­ing the House ver­sion of the bill.

Kee­ley, on the job for just four months, was among the crews of PGW work­ers who were check­ing out a gas leak on the 6900 block of Tor­res­dale Ave. after 8 p.m. on  Jan. 18. Nat­ur­al gas leak­ing from a broken high-pres­sure gas main ac­cu­mu­lated in the base­ment of a build­ing at Tor­res­dale and Dis­ston. The gas ig­nited when a fur­nace went on.

Kee­ley, who was out­side, died in the blast. A fire raged for two hours. Four oth­er PGW work­ers and a fire­fight­er were in­jured.

In the last le­gis­lat­ive ses­sion, Brendan Boyle in­tro­duced a bill cre­at­ing the Emer­gency and Law En­force­ment Per­son­nel Death Be­ne­fits Act. The meas­ure was passed by the House and Sen­ate and signed in­to law.

“Nat­ur­al gas work­ers put their lives on the line every day to pro­tect us from danger,” Kev­in Boyle said. “In this case, Mark Kee­ley was my con­stitu­ent, and I am go­ing to fight to see that his sac­ri­fice is not for­got­ten. His fam­ily de­serves all of our grat­it­ude and sup­port.”

“For put­ting his life on the line, it’s only fair that Mark had the peace of mind to know that if any­thing happened to him, his fam­ily would be taken care of,” Sabat­ina said.

Ken­ney said something should be done for gas work­ers, but he real­ized it had to be done on the state level.

“We should tell gas work­ers we ap­pre­ci­ate what they do,” the coun­cil­man said.

“We’re fi­nally go­ing to be re­cog­nized as first re­spon­ders. Every day, our lives are in danger,” said Keith Holmes, pres­id­ent of Loc­al 686 of the Util­ity Work­ers Uni­on of Amer­ica. “We de­serve the same be­ne­fits the fire­fight­ers and po­lice of­ficers get.”

Kee­ley’s fath­er, Tom, thanked every­one gathered at the uni­on hall last Thursday.

Re­fer­ring to the bills promp­ted by his fam­ily’s loss, he said, “Maybe some good can come out of this.” ••

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