Firefighters, community come through
During the recent plant fire at Norstam Veneers Inc., firefighters were put to the test and I’d have to say they passed with flying colors.
Granted, they weren’t able to save much of the Mauckport factory, but who would have expected them to, given the fact that the facility was full of wood.
However, they did their work in their finest way.
Heth Township Volunteer Fire Dept., the lead department for the Feb. 2 fire, took control of the situation, as they should. Fire chief Cecil Garmon quickly put out the call for assistance. Because of the county’s mutual-aid agreement, Harrison Township firefighters were already responding, but Garmon knew it was going to be a long night and would take a considerable amount of water to extinguish the blaze.
Incident command was put in place, with Dan Cook, Heth Township VFD’s secretary-treasurer, taking the lead role. He was assisted by Katie Sutherland. The two took great care to log in each firefighter who arrived on the scene to help. They also kept out people who didn’t need to be on the property. And close tabs were kept on non-fire officials who were allowed on the premises. Not only was this done to protect everyone from the fire, but it also kept people out of the way of the seemingly constant flow of tanker trucks moving in and out of the plant grounds to deliver water to portable ‘dump tanks’ that had been set up around the perimeter of the plant.
The reason they were able to have a constant supply of water to put on the fire was because of the number of fire departments in the region that responded to help. Each of the seven other fire departments in Harrison County ‘ Boone Township, Elizabeth, Lanesville, Milltown, New Middletown, Palmyra and Ramsey ‘ sent at least one tanker truck, along with firefighters, for assistance. Other fire departments in Indiana, including Georgetown, Lafayette Township, Sellersburg and Utica, also sent equipment and firefighters, as did Hardinsburg, Meade County and Payneville in Kentucky.
As each firefighter arrived, they checked in to see where they could best help. They didn’t try to take over or redirect the efforts of what was being done. Most departments were assigned to haul water. When they had emptied the water from their tanker into a temporary holding tank set up near one of four aerial pumper trucks, they quickly went to refill their tankers. They then would return to wait in line, in one of two staging areas, to do it all over again.
In an operation of this magnitude, good radio communication is crucial. While this could have been a problem at the Norstam fire because so many agencies were involved, from both sides of the Ohio River, everyone was able to get on the same frequency and know what was taking place and what they needed to do next.
Jackson-Jennings Co-op delivered fuel near the scene, allowing the fire trucks to be refueled without having to travel far from the scene. Besides, at that hour, who knows how far they would have had to go to get fuel.
The firefighters did their job for hours, relying on nourishment from water, cookies and sandwiches supplied by residents and the Red Cross. It was the kindness of people who wanted to help but knew of no other way at the time.
And that generosity has continued to the nearly 115 Norstam employees since the fire was extinguished. Business owners have offered similar facilities so veneer production could resume (sawmill work is already underway as that part of the plant had little, if any, damage). The Harrison County Community Foundation is collecting money and canned goods, so as not to deplete the food bank at Harrison County Community Services, which will also help the employees with other assistance they may need.
Students at Heth-Washington Elementary and Corydon Intermediate schools are trading in canned goods for ‘friendship-grams’ for Valentine’s Day tomorrow (Thursday). The donated items will go to the Norstam employees while the students send the messages to their friends.
It’s unfortunate that a company’s livelihood was destroyed and it will take several weeks, if not longer, to rebuild it, but it’s good to know that help is there when we need it.
Let’s hope that it’s quite some time before we need to call on help of this magnitude again.