08-15-03: Employees injured in elevator
|By MARGIE WUEBKER
NEW BREMEN - A powerful explosion rocked Auglaize Farmers Cooperative
Inc. Thursday afternoon, critically injuring two employees.
The blast, centered in the loading dock area at the base of the grain
elevator, could be heard throughout a large part of the Auglaize County community. A flash
fire also occurred, but flames were out by th time New Bremen-German Township Fire
Department arrived on the scene with a full contingent of trucks.
New Bremen-area farmer George Heitkamp backed his Chevy pickup to the
loading dock on the east side shortly before the 2:50 p.m. explosion, intending to get
feed for his pigs.
"I had just gotten out of the truck and was walking around the
front when I heard a loud bang," he told The Daily Standard. "It all happened so
quick, I didn't know at first what happened. A minute more and I would have been
Clyde Wessel, the mill operator, and Steven Schrolucke, a truck driver,
were approximately 10 feet inside the elevator building.
"Clyde came out on his own steam," Heitkamp said. "His
clothes were not on fire at the time but you could tell they had been. Steve was still
The farmer ran to the office located in a separate building, screaming
for someone to call 911. The call already had been placed.
The employees, both of whom reside in the New Knoxville area, were
taken by ambulance to Joint Township District Memorial Hospital, St. Marys. New Bremen
Police Chief Doug Harrod confirmed the men suffered serious burns.
Wessel was transferred by CareFlight emergency helicopter to Miami
Valley Hospital in Dayton, where he remains in critical condition in the intensive care
Schrolucke was taken aboard a LifeFlight helicopter to St. Vincent
Mercy Medical Center in Toledo. He, too, remains in critical condition in the intensive
Heitkamp, who escaped with singed hair, was taken by ambulance to
Community Hospital, Coldwater, where he was treated then released.
Elevator manager Bob Heitkamp also was inside the building, working
approximately 20 feet from Wessel and Schrolucke. He emerged without injury.
"Clyde and Steve have worked here five to seven years," he
said. "They are good workers."
With a staff of less than 10 people, employees are more like family
than associates. Wessel is reportedly married and has a family, according to the manager.
Harrod was on patrol when he received a radio message from street
department employees working a block north of the elevator. Some of the men, who are
firefighters, ran to the scene and began administering first aid until the New Bremen
Emergency Squad arrived.
Firefighters, with the aid of an aerial ladder truck, entered a window
near the top of the concrete elevator tower to make sure all flames were out.
Dennis Cummings of Van Wert, an investigator with the Ohio Fire
Marshal's Office, arrived shortly after 5 p.m. After talking with firefighters, Cummings
began his inspection in the area of the loading dock.
"It was a dust explosion but we're still investigating what
triggered it," Cummings said this morning. "Grain elevators generate a lot of
dust. It's a hazard of the business."
The powerful explosion, which apparently took place on the first level
or in the basement of the facility, blew out windows on all sides of the structure. Shards
of glass were carried nearly a hundred feet in all directions before raining down on
nearby railroad tracks, farm fields and streets.
"The explosion blew up and out through the entire building,"
Cummings added. "However, the flames were pretty well contained to the first
Russ Bertke, who resides about two blocks from the elevator, was
installing a new sidewalk at his South Franklin Street home at the time.
"Even with a cement truck running, the explosion was loud,"
he said. "My first thought was one of the grain bins fell over. We're used to regular
elevator noise. This was definitely something out of the ordinary."
The wail of sirens confirmed his suspicions, but he could not put down
a trowel in order to take a look. Neighbors apprised him of what had transpired.
Yellow tape still surrounds the elevator today, with Cummings, local
fire officials and insurance investigators returning to the scene.
A structural engineer will determine whether the elevator remains
structurally sound. A decision on when the business will reopen is expected once the
engineering report is complete.
This is reportedly the first explosion in the cooperative's 77-year
history. It operates 15 elevators throughout the state.
SUBSCRIBE TO THE DAILY STANDARD
(419)586-2371, Fax: (419)586-6271
All content copyright 2003
The Standard Printing
P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH