By Margie Wuebker
Employees of QualiTech Metal Finishers Inc. returned to work Thursday to begin cleanup operations in the wake of a fire that has curtailed manufacturing operations at least temporarily.
Dennis R. Cummings, an investigator with the Ohio Fire Marshal's Office, has ruled the fire accidental in nature. He believes a tank heater was inadvertently left on prior to the New Year's holiday shortdown. It apparently overheated and ignited nearby plastic storage containers.
A construction crew, working on an addition at the plant, spotted smoke coming from the main structure at 12:29 p.m. Monday and called 911.
The blaze, which drew firefighters from Celina, Coldwater and the city of St. Marys, was centered in the middle bay at the 441 Grand Lake Road plant.
Flames spread to the roof, posing an overhaul challenge for firefighters who had to cut through the corrugated metal roof and rubber membrane to access smouldering insulation. "The blaze was contained to one of three bays and the roof thanks to early detection by the construction crew and quick response by firefighters," QualiTech quality manager Homer Burnett told The Daily Standard. "The damage could have been much worse without that."
He estimated 25 percent of the equipment in the bay was damaged. Fortunately, no customer products were in the area at the time.
Other areas of the building sustained collateral damage from smoke and/or heat.
The company, formerly known as Ringle Plating, does zinc, black oxide and phosphate plating for some 300 companies throughout northwest Ohio. They regularly ship products to the local plant for processing.
Employees were called back Thursday after state fire marshal and insurance investigators permitted access to the damaged area late Wednesday.
"They are cleaning and then checking customer products piece by piece for damage," Burnett said. "We are continuing to satisfy customer orders through alliances with other platers."
Other activities include moving machinery and general cleanup to remove debris.
Some major functions will resume early next week, according to Burnett. These include restarting production in the other two bays, receiving customer products and processing wastewater.
"We expect to get up to speed as fast as possible," he said. "However, we expect work on the heavily damaged area to take several months."
Burnett lauded the efforts of everyone involved, ranging from firefighters to customers. Early clearance has allowed some products and other items to be moved into the unfinished addition.
A loss figure has not been set as yet with insurance company representatives continuing to meet with QualiTech officials.