The blaze began sometime after 10 pm on the night of November 8, and was caused by an electrical fault in a piece of drying equipment in the flexible die production area. According to published reports, the fire was spotted by an employee who had arrived for the night shift.
More than 150 firefighters from several area towns fought the blaze and the smoke throughout the night and into the following day. In the hours immediately following the fire, access to the plant was extremely limited because of the presence of hazardous materials inside. Certain processes in die manufacture make use of acids and other compounds, and apparently some drums of chemicals had melted in the heat and their contents combined on the floor.
“We are still evaluating the extent of the damage,” Bates says. “All machinery is being carefully examined for chemical contamination,” which is why the evaluation process has taken weeks to complete.
Production at the Pennsylvania plant is not expected to resume until January, but Bates says that there has been no interruption in the manufacture of dies. Within 30 minutes of the fire being reported, Gerhardt’s UK plant made an electronic transfer of all production data from the US operation and has continued manufacturing from England. “We sent our customer service manager to the UK to coordinate work to make sure that all of the information was getting processed accurately,” he adds.
Gerhardt USA, whose parent company is in Denmark, employs 25 people, all of whom are still working at the plant. The administrative area of the building was undamaged, and production personnel are assisting with the cleanup and the machine analysis.