BERWICK, PA. — Bryan Statskey was barely home from work for 15 minutes when he got the call from the Consolidated Container Co. plant he manages.
The blow molding, bottle making site on the outskirts of town in an industrial area of Berwick was on fire.
“At first, I thought: ‘Was this for real?’” he remembered about receiving the call that early evening, Sept. 18. “I heard the roll call in the background. This is serious. Very serious.”
His normal 20-minute drive to the plant took 45 as he made calls around the company to let folks know what was going on. “Coming up to the plant, I see smoke rising and a lot of people were already here, a lot of early responders,” he said.
Firefighters from three counties and 19 companies battled that evening to knock down the flames and save the plant in the process. But all of the smoke and the water and the fire itself left devastation in its wake.
Quick response by those firefighters helped contain the fire to about a third of the 197,000-square-foot facility.
“It was disbelief. It was absolute chaos,” Statskey said. “It was incredible. Something that is etched in my mind I’ll never forget.”
Sept. 18, 2013, is etched in CCC company history as well. It was the day that the Berwick plant burned thanks to a massive electrical shortage called an arc flash that sent sparks into the building’s old, wooden rafters. It was the day the company decided to rebuild.
There’s a door mat when you walk up to CCC’s offices in Berwick. It said, “Safety Always Wins,” when the company gathered employees and community members May 22 to celebrate reopening of the site.
Each week, this and other similar door mats around the site are switched out and cleaned. But they always carry a safety theme, Statskey said.
“It pays off to be prepared and even when you think you have all your bases covered, there are things that are going to crop up,” the plant manager said. “Don’t think that it can’t happen to you.
“That,” he said about an attention to safety, “paid off. No injuries. That in and of itself is incredible for a fire like this.”
Each and every worker that night got out. The roll call quickly proved that. They were, indeed, safe. But they also thought they were watching their future go up in smoke.
Clive Brown, regional director for CCC, was in Rochester, N.Y., when he got the call. And by the time he arrived about five hours later in Berwick, the company already knew it was going to rebuild.
“You see a big hulking building and have a smell of the fire,” he said. Several employees were still in the parking lot when he arrived between midnight and 1 a.m. “trying to wrap their heads around what happened,”
By the next morning, foggy and overcast, 90 percent of the first-shift workers were back at the plant, ready to chip in wherever they could. They were sent home that day as the company worked on its short- and long-term plans. Everybody soon learned they would keep their jobs and still be paid for 40 hours a week even if there weren’t 40 hours of work for them. Some were moved to other company plants around the country for temporary assignments.
CCC certainly took care of its employees during this trying time. But the company also took care of itself by taking care of its employees.
“We have a very committed and skilled workforce and wanted to keep them. And we also wanted to show that we are committed to the business,” Brown said.
Bob Gliem is a machine operator at CCC in Berwick, but on this particular day he was giving tours of the rebuilt facility. Most of his tour group were retired employees who peppered him with questions about how things are done these days at the plant.
When the flames roared that night, he now admitted he was not sure what his future would hold.
“I thought we were done,” he said. “It was devastating.”
But he credited the volunteer emergency responders who descended on the scene for giving him and his company a future.
“Hats off to our firefighters because they contained the fire to the center of the building. We were very fortunate the way the firefighters contained it the way they did,” he said.
All told, the fire cost CCC between $5 million and $6 million, but a portion of the facility was back up and running within a couple of weeks or so. Another section was operational after a couple of more weeks. And the most heavily damaged section came back on line this spring.
CCC used the fire as an opportunity to rethink different operational aspects of the bottle-making operation, including the removal of grinders in pits in the floor. Grinders are now located on the shop floor and no longer pose a fall hazard.
“They came through for us and rebuilt. Now the place is better than ever,” Gliem said.
As the newly appointed CEO of the company, Sean Fallmann traveled to Berwick to help the local staff recognize the efforts of many to get the plant back online.
“To have bottles coming off of production lines just two short weeks after the event happened is an amazing thing. That’s just an incredible feat.
“And then to continue to work while we rebuilt the facilities so we could continue to serve our customers, and all the flexibility that you put in to adjusting your schedules and impacting your lives, it shows the great commitment that you have to this company,” he told the Berwick employees.
“I’ve only been with the company now four weeks, but from my very first day at the company, I started hearing stories about how great of an effort that it was to bring the Berwick facility back after this fire that we had. There’s only one way that that happens and that’s through great efforts by many, many people,” Fallmann said.
Bryan Statskey talks about the fire and rebuilding in a segment of the June 5 edition of Plastics News Now.