Dirt, soot, smoke, and steel. Those are just some of the challenges foreman Chris Croft, Brian Alexander, and the rest of their team have to look forward to when they arrive for their daily shift at Columbus Castings–a local steel manufacturing facility on Parson’s Ave. But on July 25, when a fire inside the plant caused severe electrical system damage to furnace number one, the crew had to roll up their sleeves and get their hands even dirtier in order to get their job done.
On a typical work day at the plant, Croft and Alexander, along with Jerry Hanson, Randy Hurst, Dave Anthony, and Chris Weisenreid, provide routine electrical repairs and maintenance for Columbus Castings, a local industrial plant that creates a variety of products for the railroad, mining, and construction industries. Columbus Castings is known for their value-engineered steel products made in their extensive and complex manufacturing facilities.
But the job site is unique in comparison to other Mid-City service locations because of the building’s characteristics. Take a look inside the facility and you’ll see bright white bursts of light accompanied by startling noises created by their two main furnaces. The combination of this sound and image are the products of an arc flash. And for Croft and Alexander’s crew, it’s a normal part of the work day.
The flash is created as part of the steel production process, which includes the following steps:
First, a metallurgist creates the right mix of alloys and other materials. Next, that combination is loaded into the arc furnace. Then, three large electrodes are lowered into the furnace, which start the molten process upon contact, and in turn, create the arc flash. After, oxygen is added to increase the heat of the mixture. Finally, the melted steel mixture puddles at the bottom of the furnace. When this puddle reaches a certain temperature, the mix is poured into large vats, lifted by overhead cranes, and emptied into their molds to produce the product solid steel castings.
Throughout these stages of production, the furnace spits smoke, sparks, and dust into the air. It’s an extreme industrial and harsh environment, Alexander, project foreman, said. At the end of the day, you look more like a West Virginia coal miner than an electrician. However, when the July 25 fire broke out in one of the factory’s furnaces, working conditions for those inside the plant became even more intense, and those usual Mid-City repairs and maintenance that Croft, Alexander, and the rest of their crew make daily shifted from routine, to critical and immediate.
The fire started when one of the factory’s ovens, which are built to melt down 70 pounds of steel at a time, ignited, burning through its oven housing completely. Although Columbus Castings has two operating furnaces and can produce product while one of those furnaces is not working, they were already down to a single functioning one.
It was bad, Croft, project foreman, said.
To escalate the situation, leaking hydraulic fuel caught fire, spreading the flames even further throughout the job site. The fire burned through the entire electrical control system, requiring Mid-City to remove the damaged system completely and replace it with all new devices.
Brian Dew, President, met Project Manager John Sapp at the facility after the dust from the incident had settled. When I spoke with John down at the plant, he already had a plan of action, Brian, Mid-City president, said. We were asked to pull out all the stops’ to get them up and running again, and that’s exactly what John, Chris, and Brian did.
The Mid-City team wasted no time in coordinating the repairs. Croft, Alexander, and the rest of their crew knew the effects that ceasing production would have on the owner, and reacting quickly and calmly provided them an opportunity for guaranteeing their customer the best outcome possible.
I told the owner I would stay and do whatever I had to do, Croft said.
Croft, who was scheduled to leave for vacation that Friday, postponed it for a day so he could assess the damage, purchase material, and lay out the work. He really streamlined the operation. If it wasn’t for Chris, we wouldn’t have gotten off on the right foot like we did, Alexander said.
From there, Alexander took Croft’s initial planning to perform the repairs. Because of the extreme heat caused by the fire, the factory needed a full day to cool down. But once construction could begin on Saturday, Alexander and Dave Anthony, Randy Hurst, Jerry Hanson, and Chris Weisenreid worked 12-14 hour shifts in excessive heat caused both by the steel mill conditions and July weather for the next six days to complete the job. Repairs included new wire, conduit, limit switches, terminal boxes, as well as wiring control, junction boxes, and PCL’s.
After Mid-City completed repairs, the project check out was finished in half a day, free of any issues related to the crew’s electrical work.
Our team was made up of the kind of guys who can be told what to do, and then take off and get it done. When you’re surrounded by good people like that, it makes your job so much easier, Alexander said.