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Elevator fire tests emergency response

Staff writer

Cooperative Grain and Supply’s Marion elevator stores millions of bushels of grain, creating grain dust with explosive potential if ignited. Anhydrous ammonia tanks and a fuel station present additional potential hazards if accidents occur.

Elevator employees regularly train and work to prevent mishaps and ensure safety, but Thursday’s fire gave emergency responders reason to test their capabilities.

“We’ve always talked about the elevator,” Marion fire Chief Mike Regnier said. “Everyone has a plan in place somewhat, so it made evacuation easier. We had a lot of good people in place and everyone did their part.”

City Administrator Roger Holter said there is no specific scenario for an elevator explosion but the situation does have a procedure.

“We go into the same emergency procedure as if there were an explosion of any type within the city,” Holter said. “We were extremely proud of our volunteer fire department. What our volunteers did rivals any paid department.”

As a management team, city officials coordinated with the county sheriff and county emergency management, but ultimately, Regnier was in command of the scene at Thursday’s fire, Holter said.

Regnier coordinated with county emergency management director Randy Frank to develop what Frank called a “unified command.”

“Together we assessed the whole situation,” Frank said. “The evacuation was Mike’s decision. Then I put the plan into motion. It gave him the opportunity to direct his fire crew.”

Frank said he was in constant contact with assistant police chief Clinton Jeffrey and sheriff Robert Craft, who then issued orders to their respective officers.

Holter said he contacted USD 408 superintendent Lee Leiker to make him aware of the fire. Leiker contacted all three Marion principals so each school could prepare for any further actions that might have been needed.

Holter also contacted St. Luke Hospital so they could initiate their emergency plan and prepare.

Jeffrey managed the door-to-door evacuation and city workers were deployed to erect road barriers, Holter said.

Holter also updated Mayor Todd Heitschmidt about resources that had been deployed.

Frank also called state officials.

“At the onset event, I called the state just so they would know it was happening in the background, but I did not request any further assistance because Marion County was able to handle the situation with the resources it had available,” Frank said.

In a situation that could have potentially gotten worse, Frank said evacuated Marion citizens did an “excellent job.”

“Everyone cooperated,” Frank said. “They all left quickly.”

However, many citizens were seen trying to enter the area to get to Marion Senior Center for regularly scheduled lunch, visit the courthouse, the city library, as well as leave or enter town by Third St.

The city’s Alert Now system was not used for the elevator fire, Holter said.

“The situation was in a confined, localized area and did not affect the whole town,” Holter said. “We determined that it would have caused more confusion in the situation, and we thought it was more important to keep officers free to help at the scene.”

Holter said the city often received excessive calls when Alert Now is used for things like shutting off water in a certain part of town.

Frank said that emergency officials would review Thursday’s response to the fire sometime this week.

“We’ll discuss if something needs to be adjusted in our response plan, but overall I think we did an excellent job,” Frank said. “Everyone did really well with their portion, it was all staged at it should have been done, and we all worked very well as a team.”

Last modified Jan. 14, 2016

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