The community of Milbank suffered a devastating loss when fire destroyed the Titan Machinery, on south Highway 15, last evening. Amidst the tragedy, manager Justin Berry and his 16 employees are still maintaining the high level of service for which they are known and keeping customers a top priority. “Our number one, ultimate goal is taking care of our customers during this time – keeping them in the field and keeping them running,” Berry said.
Several passersby reported the fire, and the Milbank Fire and Rescue Department was dispatched at approximately 7:25 p.m. “When we arrived there was an extremely high fire volume inside the structure which was pretty much fully involved,” stated Fire Chief Kevin Schuelke. Heavy black smoke was pouring out of the doors, and the large overhead shop doors had already fallen in when firefighters arrived. “The shop area was totally engulfed.”
Berry was called immediately and assisted the firefighters by unlocking the doors to allow entrance into the building. “I was completely shocked and devastated,” he expressed. He, along with several employees were present throughout the evening and aided the firefighters.
“We were pretty much on the defensive mode right from the get-go,” stated Schuelke. “Our first goal was to separate the shop area from the office and parts departments. We were able to save some office area files. That was one area we were concentrating on, but eventually the structure was a total loss.”
The shop and the office area were separated by a concrete fire wall, but that was no match for the flames. “We did put our efforts on that area. We set up water monitors on both sides of that wall and pushed water in to cool it, but it had a joining open rafter area that extended from the front to the rear of the building, and the fire went over the top of that wall,” Schuelke said. “We tried to keep most of the heat to the south portion of the building, but the fire followed the roof line to the north end.”
The firefighters also focused on adjacent buildings and equipment surrounding the main building. “Those Were always a concern for us,” stated Schuelke. “Exposures needed to be dealt with. We tried to save what we could with multiple hand lines, ground lines, manpower, and a lot of hose.”
The firefighters used a five-inch LD (large diameter) hose which was connected to the hydrants to feed the pumper trucks. They were also equipped with 1 ¾ inch and three-inch lines. “We had a pretty good water supply with two hydrants close by,” noted Schuelke. “We wanted to use big water and knew we would have enough water to accommodate us.”
While a majority of the firefighters packed up around 11 p.m., Schuelke said other department members were on standby all night. “They extinguished Class A combustibles and hot spots that were still going throughout the night. With fire growth of this magnitude, the fire accelerated as fast as it did because of the Class A combustibles in the shop.”
The Milbank Fire and Rescue Department has approximately 38 members, most of whom were present to fight last night’s fire. “We had a good turnout of guys,” said Schuelke. “We train for these high risk low frequency events, but you can never be prepared enough for a situation of this magnitude.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation by the South Dakota State Fire Marshall, who was contacted immediately by the local fire department. “Because of the scope of the building and the contents and the dollar amount involved, they will take over the investigation,” explained Schuelke. A timeline for answers is unknown. No foul play is suspected and Berry indicated the investigation could take 8-12 months.
The Milbank Police Department and Grant County Sheriff’s Department were on hand with scene safety. “There was a large amount of pedestrian, bike, and car traffic around the area,” noted Police Chief Boyd VanVooren. “With the various explosions and high traffic, safety of the observers as well as the firefighters was our primary concern. The firefighters did a great job. They put themselves in harm’s way and did a great job for our community. Thankfully, there were no injuries reported.”
Berry met with his employees right away this morning to begin planning for what comes next for Titan Machinery. “All our employees still have their jobs and are on payroll from now and going forward. This is a great company to work for, and we will continue to support the local economy.”
Berry further explained that a service truck will be set up as a mobile office on the grounds of the company and plans have been made to be up and running as early as Monday morning. “We will have power, phone lines, and internet up and running by Monday.”
Parts delivery, parts pickup, and customer pickup will operate out of the south warehouse. Employees will restock inventory of parts, and service technicians will be on call and sent out to service customers during this critical time. Service calls that come in to the local phone number (432-4576) will be directed to the Watertown store for service issues until Monday. “When we have everything hooked back up, we will take those calls in-house at our mobile office location,” said Berry. “Most of our local growers also have our direct cell numbers which they can continue to use to contact us for service and parts needs. We will work closely with the Watertown store and dispatch our service technicians to take care of our customers needs.”
Repairs will be taken care of in the Watertown location for the time being, but a temporary machine shop in Milbank is in the works. “We have had an amazing outcry of support from local businesses and the community,” said Berry. “It is heartwarming to have that much support in this community during a time like this. We will have a few days hiccup here, but will continue on during this planting season and take care of our customers as normal as possible. We have dedicated people on our team to help us get up and running again quickly and I am very thankful for that.”
The ultimate goal will be to re-build, but with the long investigation and insurance issues ahead, Berry and his staff are simply focusing on keeping their customers in the field and running as normal.