For the past half-century, Bill Kelly has been a central figure in protecting the Marcus Hook and Claymont communities.
In 1970, 16-year-old Bill joined the Claymont Fire Department as soon as he was eligible, following in his father’s footsteps. He went to his first fire within hours of being sworn in.
An estimated 10,000 fires later, Bill is still committed to fire safety in Marcus Hook, passionate about teaching and training his own brigade and other first responders in the area.
An Unconventional Path
“When I was a kid, my father was the volunteer fire chief in Claymont. I kind of grew up in the firehouse – I can remember going to fires with him in his car, and he would put me in the cab of the firetruck,” Bill said.
“I grew up in that atmosphere, and I assumed that every kid would join the fire department when they turned 16. I was a little surprised when I turned 16 that that wasn’t the case,” he continued.
Bill’s passion for the trade at a young age continued over the years, allowing him to rise through the ranks until he ultimately became fire chief at age 27.
After nearly two decades at Claymont, Bill knew he wanted to come to Marcus Hook and become fire chief. He also knew he needed to get his foot in the door at the facility – which was then the Sun Oil Marcus Hook Refinery – so in 1989 he took a job at the facility as a terminal operator.
“I wanted to be the fire chief here, and I knew that they typically didn’t hire from outside,” Bill explained. “I came in as an operator to try to get their attention and make that happen.”
He was successful, first moving to a role in the dispatch center and then being elevated to supervisor. That role got him closer to fire chief and, when the position eventually opened, he interviewed and got the job.
When Sun’s Philadelphia, Marcus Hook and Eagle Point refineries merged their departments and became Northeast Refining (NER), Bill became the emergency manager for all three, overseeing a fire chief at each facility.
Meanwhile, although it wasn’t in the original plan, Bill began teaching part time at the Delaware State Fire School, where he stayed for more than three decades, teaching everything from entry-level firefighting to officer training to hazardous materials response.
“I had no intentions of ever teaching … and I loved every second of it,” Bill said. “It was so much fun.”
In addition to his role as the NER emergency manager, as well as part-time teaching at the fire school, Bill moved with his wife to Hartly, DE, where he joined the Hartly Volunteer Fire Department – although he had no intention to do so.
“One day I showed up and the chief already filled out the application for me, so I joined,” Bill said.
From there, the chief asked Bill to be a crew leader to mentor the younger members, and later to be the assistant chief. After being appointed, he later became deputy chief for five years before eventually becoming chief when the spot opened.
But it wasn’t sustainable with his full-time job at Marcus Hook, which was now an hour from home. Bill gave up his role as chief and now sits on the board of the department, managing its finances.
Still, Bill continued to expand his extracurriculars as he worked at Marcus Hook. It wasn’t so much that he wanted to keep adding roles, but he kept getting tapped for them thanks to his expertise and work ethic.
This led to his position on Delaware’s State Fire Prevention Commission, where he was appointed by the governor to help oversee the fire marshal’s office, the fire school, EMTs and some fire departments. Bill is 2-1/2 years into a six-year term, and he may get chosen again after that.
Meanwhile, at Marcus Hook …
Over the years as the former Marcus Hook Refinery was redeveloped as a natural gas liquids processing facility, Energy Transfer remained committed to maintaining an industrial fire department at Marcus Hook. It was only logical for Bill to lead that brigade.
Bill’s current role is senior manager of emergency services at Energy Transfer’s Marcus Hook Terminal. He leads the fire department, comprising 40 hourly and 20 salaried employees from the terminal. The brigade handles all emergency response in and around the terminal.
Bill also oversees the entire security function, from overseeing all safety gear and protective equipment to managing all fire suppression and detection equipment.
“We’re busy here, and I have great people in my department,” Bill said, adding that many of them are EMTs and/or chiefs at other fire departments.
Bill is proud of the good relationship that his Marcus Hook department has with local municipalities and other first responders. Every November, Bill takes the Marcus Hook brigade and other local departments to Texas A&M University for an intensive training that’s specific to large industrial facilities.
“The training is phenomenal. It’s the only training I know that really replicates real-life scenarios,” Bill said. “People come to this training from around the globe – it’s very rewarding.”
In addition to that annual training, Bill helps lead a training at the Delaware Fire School twice a year, and he formerly taught for National Foam, a leading manufacturer of firefighting foam, in Texas each year.
A Storied Career
“I’ve probably been to about 10,000 fires over the course of my career, and of those, as the fire chief, I’ve been in charge of about three-quarters of them,” Bill said.
Thanks to his dedication and hard work in a number of roles over the last 50-plus years, Bill is a respected and reputable emergency manager, teacher and former fire chief. Energy Transfer is proud to employ someone so dedicated to protecting Marcus Hook and the surrounding communities.
Bill Kelly, right, participates in annual industrial fire safety training in Texas in 2021.
Bill is pictured as the Sunoco Marcus Hook fire chief in 2007.
Bill stands near an engine at the Marcus Hook Terminal fire department in 2022.