From start to finish, a blaze raged on for six hours on Thursday, Sept. 6 at the Batesville Casket Plant in Manchester. The paint booths, instead of coating caskets, were coating the walls in heavy smoke and fiery heat.
Manchester Fire Rescue received the call at 4:56 p.m. and firefighters were on the scene before 5 p.m. When they arrived, they were met with flames rising 10 to 15 feet above the ventilation stacks over the paint rooms – the structures are located furthest from Monogard Drive.
The building was evacuated in under 10 minutes and all Batesville Casket personnel were accounted for. Firefighters from the Tullahoma Fire Department and Coffee County were called in to help and everyone went to work.
The paint room is controlled by robots – it was not designed for humans to work in the area. This made it extremely difficult to get to the seeds of the fire, explained Manchester Fire Chief George Chambers.
The firefighters, each carrying and wearing 200 pounds of gear, had to maneuver through tight spaces, through painted areas and over 6-foot high vats to get to the flames.
“Our guys go in with black gear on and we come out looking like Dalmatians,” Chambers said.
With Manchester’s ladder truck, a crew went onto the roof and flooded the ventilation stacks. They cut one open and dumped 1,000 to 2,000 gallons of water into the rooms, Chambers said.
The fire was put out by 11 p.m. thanks to the combined efforts of Manchester, Tullahoma and Coffee County officials. Arnold Airbase firefighters responded twice to the scene to assist, county EMS and EMA provided non-fire support to the firefighters, such as providing a shelter from the rain and water, and the city water department gave the firefighters all the water they needed to put out the blaze.
“All of us come together and work as one department,” said Chambers.
No one was injured during the fire.
“Last night a fire broke out in our Batesville Casket Plant in Manchester,” John Linville, Batesville’s vice president of supply chain said in a statement issued Friday morning. “The plant followed emergency protocols, and we are thankful to report that there were no injuries. We are grateful to the outstanding efforts of the Manchester, Tullahoma and Arnold Air Force Base firefighters, state police and other emergency personnel.”
Linville confirmed the fire was limited to one area of the plant and said remediation experts were on site Friday to begin the cleanup process.
“The warehouse that housed product was not impacted,” he said. “Product will continue to be shipped from the facility today [Friday}.”
It is unknown at press time what caused the fire and to what extent the plant was damaged. Chambers estimates that a couple of the paint booths were heavily damaged, as well as the smokestacks. The floors, which were flooded with about 3 inches of water, were completely dry the next morning. The investigation into cause of the fire is ongoing.
The plant, located at 175 Monogard Drive, employs 500 people, 150 of whom were on shift when the fire broke out, according the statement from the company.