Fire devastating blow for Enterprise Foundry

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Sackville firefighters douse hot spots in the early morning hours following the fire.

Operations at Enterprise Fawcett Foundry may get off the ground again, despite a devastating fire last Wednesday night that destroyed the central office building, some storage space, and a small-engine repair shop.

Darren Wheaton, owner and president of Enterprise Fawcett Foundry, said this week he is still weighing his options into whether he'll continue production of the stoves and furnaces the company has been making for over a century in Sackville.

"We would like to continue with operations if possible as we did not lose much equipment in the fire and we still have the majority of our inventory that was not damaged by the fire," said Wheaton. "However this is still up in the air."

The moulding shop, which is where much of the production work is done, was in another section of the building and was saved from any heat or smoke damage, he said.

Wheaton said he was at George's Roadhouse next to the foundry, delivering a liquor order with his brother last Wednesday evening at around 6:30 p.m. when he looked over and noticed a "strange glow" coming from the direction of the administration office building.

"I knew it wasn't a truck (we allow Armour to park their trailers there for the night), so we went to investigate. And this is when I noticed the fire coming from the second-storey window."

He said a truck driver who was dropping off his trailer noticed the fire at about the same time and called 911. Wheaton also decided to phone 911 right after that.

Sackville Fire Chief Craig Bowser said his firefighters were dispatched to the scene at about 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday evening, after a call came in about a structure fire at the foundry site.

By the time they arrived, the building at the front of the property was fully engulfed with flames shooting through the roof. The building houses the main administration offices for the foundry as well as Skiplyn -a small engine-repair shop - and a shooting range on the second floor. There was no indication of anyone being inside.

Bowser said the firefighters quickly began an "aggressive exterior attack," battling several explosions along the way.

He said due to safety concerns, he didn't send any of his members inside the building during the height of the fire.

Bowser said he soon called on three other neighbouring fire departments - Pointe de Bute, River Hebert and Dorchester - to provide assistance in keeping a water supply readily available.

"Our mutual aid agreements with other departments, that's an excellent resource to have," he said.

Dorchester Fire Chief Greg Partridge said his department was called at around 8:30 p.m. to send help. Two tankers and nine firefighters were sent over to Sackville, although by the time they arrived, said Partridge, much of the fire had already been contained.

"It was basically over . . . there wasn't a whole lot we could do. They had it contained to that one brick section and they were working on putting out hot spots," said Partridge.

The Dorchester tankers were put to good use, however, hauling water back and forth to the scene, said Partridge. As well, the village firefighters were able to relieve the Sackville members, who had been fighting the blaze for several hours and needed a break.

"So some of our guys grabbed the hose and gave them a bit of a breather."

The tankers were continuously filled up from the municipal water system and Bowser said the new water tower certainly proved its worth during the fire.

"The water tower was working well. It was a great asset to have. I'm glad the town spent money on that infrastructure," he said.

Bowser said the fire was a challenging one, mostly due to the weather conditions. He said the high winds and cold temperatures fanned the flames, which made it difficult on the exhausted firefighters.

But he said the quick decision to bring in a high-hoe to tear down the breezeway, which linked the office building with the other structures in the foundry complex, was ultimately what slowed the fire down.

"The fire was spreading quickly. But once we separated those buildings, we were able to contain it," said Bowser. "Thanks to that decision we were able to save a big majority of the buildings."

There were more than 50 firefighters on scene during the worst of the blaze. Bowser said he sent the other departments home around midnight, about an hour after the fire had been subdued.

"I'm very proud of the firefighters and I'm very pleased with the mutual aid, we all work very well together."

Sackville firefighters remained on the scene throughout the night and continued to take shifts on Thursday, dousing out any "hot spots or flare-ups" as the fire continued to smolder long after the flames had died down.

"It's amazing how our volunteers come together in a situation like this," he said. "The town should be proud of its volunteers."

Bowser also gave credit to the local RCMP, who were on hand to block streets and to keep people away from the site of the fire on Wednesday and Thursday. He also praised the town's public works crew, who salted the area along King and Main Streets where the fire trucks were traveling to fill their tankers as well as at the site of the fire.

The provincial Fire Marshall's office was brought in Thursday and Friday to investigate the fire with help from the local RCMP.

The cause of the fire still remains a mystery, however, although arson has been ruled out.

"The Fire Marshall's office has concluded its investigation and the cause of the fire is undetermined," Bowser reported on Friday.

Bowser said investigators were on scene on both Thursday and Friday, digging through the rubble of the foundry office building, but weren't able to pinpoint exactly how the fire got started.

"It is not believed to be suspicious in nature at this time," he said.

The Sackville community was left reeling from last week's events that left part of the historic foundry in ruins.

"It's a huge loss," said Mayor Pat Estabrooks on Thursday. "It's part of our history . . . so it's a sad loss for our town."

Some residents nearby said they heard a loud explosion at around 6:30 p.m. and then went outside to discover flames shooting high into the air above the building.

Roger Beal, who lives on the corner of Queens Road and Enterprise Street near the foundry site, said he and his wife were just finishing up supper and he was on the phone with a friend when he felt the tremor.

"Our whole house shook, it vibrated," he said.

Beal said there was an extremely loud bang, "almost like a small bomb."

"We didn't know what it was, what the heck just happened. We just knew whatever it was, it was bad."

Less than a minute later, Beal said his son, who had come by for a visit, came running into the house to tell them the foundry was on fire.

When they went outside to investigate, the fire trucks and RCMP were already arriving at the scene, said Beal, where the flames were shooting up through the roof.

About 10 minutes later, Beal said he recalls there was another explosion from within the foundry building, although much milder than the initial blast. Several more followed throughout the night.

Mayor Estabrooks said she felt and heard the explosion as well from her home more than a mile away.

"It was like someone was shooting a cannon," she explains.

Then, when she arrived at the scene of the fire, she said the heat from the fire was very intense and the flames were continuously shooting up into the air, sometimes several metres high, for several hours.

Located next to Sackville's train station and George's Roadhouse on Lorne Street, Enterprise Foundry was founded in 1872 by the Dominion Foundry Company. After suffering a devastating fire in 1908, the plant was rebuilt and up-to-date machinery was brought in to replace the ruins.

One of the few remaining foundries in the world, Enterprise has, through the years, manufactured some of the world's finest cooking stoves. Today the operation also produces furnaces and heaters.

Estabrooks said her parents and some of her siblings worked at the foundry and many local residents have stories about their experiences there as well.

"I hope they're able to resume operations . . . but if not, then we've lost an art, a culture, a profession that might never be done here again."

At full production, the plant and offices employ 28-39 employees at the foundry.

Estabrooks said she's thankful no one was hurt during the blaze and that the firefighters were able to contain the fire to one part of the foundry building.

"Thank goodness nobody was injured, nobody lost their life," she said.

She said the town will assist in any way it can if the owner wishes to rebuild.

Wheaton said the building was not insured at the time of the fire.

"We had no insurance at the time because of the claim we had filed for the roof collapse (on another building last winter)," he said.

He said the insurance company would no longer insure the foundry and although he was in the process of having a broker looking around for another carrier, their insurance had been dropped as of Dec 5.

Tantramar MLA Mike Olscamp said the provincial government will also pitch in to help where necessary. He said he has already been in contact with representatives from the Post-Secondary Education department about retraining options if the owner decides not to resume production and people are left out of work.

Olscamp said he's thankful the fire was able to be contained to just the one building because the foundry is "such a big part of the heritage of Sackville."

"It's disappointing but if he can recover, we'll be there to help him as much as we can," he said.


Organizations: Enterprise Foundry, RCMP, Dominion Foundry Company

Geographic location: Sackville, River Hebert, Queens Road Lorne Street

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Recent comments

  • van hunt
    November 25, 2013 - 21:09

    am interested in the Little Cod marine heater. When do you plan to resume production? and are there any available now?