From start to finish, the Batesville blaze raged on for six hours on Thursday, Sept. 6. 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 were on the scene before 5 p.m. When they arrived, they were met with flames rising 10-15 feet out of the ventilation stacks above 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. 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, carrying and wearing 200 pounds of gear, had to maneuver through tight spaces, through painted areas and over 6-foot 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. with a combined effort of Manchester, Tullahoma and Coffee County officials. Arnold Airbase firemen responded twice to the scene to assist, county EMS and EMA provided non-fire support to the fire fighters, such as providing a shelter from the rain and water, and the city water department gave them 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 fight.
“Last night a fire broke out within our Batesville Casket Plant, in Manchester, Tennessee. 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,” said VP of Supply Chain for Batesville, John Linville.
“The fire was limited to one area of the facility. The warehouse that housed product was not impacted,” he added. “Product will continue to be shipped from the facility today. Remediation experts are completing the clean-up process.”
It is unknown what caused the fire and what damages Batesville is facing. Chambers estimates that a couple of their 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.
Batesville’s Manchester plant employs 500 people; approximately 340 people work at the plant, with 150 on shift when the fire broke out. The plant is located at 175 Monogard Drive.