Employees were able to return to work at The Ovid Bell Press Wednesday not long after they evacuated the building due to a fire.
Firefighters were called to the press plant, located at 1201 Bluff St., at around 8 a.m. Wednesday to put out a fire that started in the northeast section of the building.
Fulton Fire Chief Dean Buffington said when workers at the press turned on the warehouse furnace this morning, oil fumes and dust in the furnace duct system ignited, causing a fire to erupt inside the ductwork. Buffington said the entire Fulton Fire Department-five fire trucks and 19 men-responded, containing the fire within 20 minutes. Officials estimated the damages from the blaze to be between $50,000-$100,000.
John Bell, owner of Ovid Bell, said when the alarm went off, the plant's employees followed emergency evacuation procedures and exited the building. The employees went to Miller Chrysler Dodge Jeep next door to the plant while they awaited word on the condition of the building. The Fulton Police Department had the section of Bluff Street in front of the plant closed to traffic for about an hour while firefighters extinguished the flames and used fans to clear the smoke from the building.
About an hour after the evacuation, Bell came into the car dealership and told employees that they could return to work, although there was going to be some clean up ahead of them. Bell said most of the fire damage occurred in the area near the plant's "web one" printing press. Originally, Bell said he was afraid all three of the company's presses would be out of commission for the day, but he said that due to the department's careful use of water, the damage to equipment was much less than anticipated.
"Water is as dangerous to computers and electronics as fire," Bell said.
He said that the firefighters did an "excellent job" handling the situation, and as of Wednesday afternoon, all three printing presses were running again, although the "web one" press was still being monitored for potential repairs.
Dennis White, pressman at Ovid Bell, was working in the area where the fire started. When he first saw flames, he said he and many of the other workers immediately started working to put them out.
"We just grabbed a whole bunch of fire extinguishers and started using them," White said.
He said even though they worked frantically with the extinguishers, the fire continued to sweep through the ductwork.
"It was spreading so quick," White said. "I've never seen anything like it."
Julie Miller, bindery worker, said she's been at the plant for 29 years and this is the first fire she's seen in that time. She said there was a lot of smoke in the building when she had to evacuate and was just glad that everybody got out safe. Miller and the other employees were waiting inside the heated car dealership building Wednesday morning trying to keep warm and debating about how much damage the fire and water had done to the plant's equipment.
White said he believes it could have been a lot worse if the sprinklers and extinguishers had not been used, especially with as much paper and chemicals as are stored in the building.
"Basically, I think everybody responded really well," he said.
Bell said the fire chief told him the use of fire extinguishers is what saved much of the building.
"The heroics of our employees who fought the flames initially kept the fire under control," Bell said. "If not for them, the press room would have gone up in flames."
Chief Buffington said he was only a couple of blocks away when he got the call about the fire.
"We came with everything we had," Buffington said, referring to calling all personnel and trucks to the scene.
He said there was a "heavy" amount of smoke coming out of the building for a while, so all the fire department's exhaust fans and some on loan from the City of Fulton were used to dispel the smoke. As far as damages done, Buffington said some of the ductwork and wiring will have to be repaired.
Bell said the plant has 65 magazines on the schedule for the week, a busy week for the company. However, he said the fire will only cause one print job to be delayed-a magazine out of Lake Charles, La., that was printing when the fire erupted.
"We're very fortunate," he said.