Tuesday night while I was intensely watching “The Voice” on NBC, there was a sudden announcement take over from FOX 17 News stating there had been countless explosions coming from a local area between Madison Ave. and College Ave. SE in Grand Rapids. News reporters warned everyone that planned to drive through that area to stay home if they didn’t necessarily need to go that direction. Besides the backed up traffic, emergency response members were not sure what exactly caused the fire and whether or not it could be harmful to the environment and the surrounding community. The business that burned down was Lee Auto Export’s body shop.
According to the local FOX17 News article “Cleanup Continues at Burned Out Auto Business”, written by Jennifer Dowling, “Employees tried to salvage what they could as cleanup continued at Lee Auto Export’s body shop between Madison Ave. and College Ave. SE in Grand Rapids Wednesday. Workers also constructed a wooden wall where debris had fallen through a cement wall to protect the public from possible safety hazards. Flames reached up to the sky Tuesday evening from the body shop, located at 1515 College Ave. SE. Smoke could be spotted and smelled for miles. To add to the dramatic scene, some responding fire trucks were reportedly held up by a passing train for a few seconds.
Grand Rapids Fire Prevention Inspector Ric Dokter says someone waiting for that very train spotted and reported the fire. ‘A friend of one of the people who worked here called, waiting for the train saw the fire,’ says Dokter. Dokter says the chemicals inside used for body work made the fire even more challenging. “With the kind of operation they had here and with the flammable liquids, that was definitely a factor in making it difficult. Also the collapse buries a lot of the combustibles. So, when we pour water on it, we’re just pouring water on the outside, and not getting it inside. That also made our operations longer than they might be,” says Dokter.
“I got a call from Lee at around eight something when I was cooking dinner and that’s when it happened,” says Mo Pham, Lee Auto Export Sales Manager. “I went down there, I was shocked.” This wasn’t the first time a building has burned at the address. Pham says they’ve had another building destroyed like this by fire. “I had a building next to that building, a few years ago, and it got burned down too and it was bad. The other building we didn’t have no insurance,” says Pham.
“There was a building here, two to three years ago, but that was determined to be accidental due to cutting,” says Dokter. Pham says they learned from that fire and had insurance on the building itself, but not what was inside. “This one, I don’t have no insurance for the content either, we had like 15 cars burned, so there was a lot of loss there,” says Pham.
Some employees who came to survey the scene were emotional or concerned about perhaps losing their jobs. “This mostly just all total shock,” says Carl Jorgensen, inventory specialist for Lee Auto Export, “Really shocked that place went up in flames, worried about what building it was.”
Jorgenson says he saw his place of employment burning to the ground on Fox 17 News and decided to drive in and see for himself what had become of his workspace. “A sense of sadness on it, you know, that it happened,” says Jorgenson. Pham says there is security video that may help in the investigation. “We had like a camera recording, it looked like the fire started from the outside,” says Pham.
“It can point us in the right direction, look it’s a big building, and if we have a place to start it makes our job that much easier,” Ric Dokter, Fire Prevention Inspector. Pham says they will rebuild at some point or find another building to work out of, but she says some employees may be out of a job for now until they can figure out what to do. Jorgensen is hopeful he will be able to work out of the other buildings. “It’s just ungodly what happens because you know the people who worked in there, they have their tools in there, that’s their livelihood, lost all that, it can be replaced, but thank God there was no life lost,” says Jorgensen.
In 2011, there were 484,500 structure fires in the U.S. which is about 1 every 65 seconds…Of that amount there were 2,640 civilian fire deaths and 15,635 civilian fire injuries. These are very large numbers which are extremely costly, averaging about $9.7 billion in property damage. Fire prevention is an EXTREMELY important aspect of any business’ safety program. Please take your fire prevention programs seriously. And if you need help with your programs please check out Summit’s fire prevention programs. We have some really great materials! Check them out here!
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Dowling, Jennifer. “Cleanup Continues at Burned Out Auto Business”. Fox 17 News. 12 September 2012. http://www.fox17online.com/news/fox17-grand-rapids-cleanup-continues-at-burned-out-auto-business-20120912,0,4497355.story?track=rss
Karter, Michael. “Fire Loss in The United States During 2011”. National Fire Protection Association. September 2012. http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/pdf/os.fireloss.pdf