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Fire chief entertains crowd with blazing tales

Shelbyville Fire Chief Tony Logan, left, and Grover Museum Director Alex Krach lead a discussion on major fires in Shelbyville throughout the years Wednesday night at the Strand Theatre in downtown Shelbyville.

By JEFF BROWN - jbrown@shelbynews.com

“The Knauf fire was, to my knowledge, one of the biggest fires ever in our city,” recalled Shelbyville Fire Chief Tony Logan as part of the Strand Theatre’s Community Treasure Series.

Revamped for 2019, The Community Treasure Series will feature 10 public events designed to spur conversation about unique, interesting and well-known events and people in Shelbyville history. 

On Wednesday night at the Strand Theatre in downtown Shelbyville, Logan talked about major fires in Shelbyville over the last two centuries and his own experiences battling the ones that have occurred during his 34-plus-year career as a firefighter.

It was the most recent massive fire, one that made national news, that Logan shared the most details about. On Feb. 16, 2007, a portion of Knauf Insulation, one of Shelbyville’s largest employers, caught fire on a night when temperatures were sub-zero.

“The fire (call) came in around 2:44 a.m. in the Knauf receiving dock area,” said Logan. “When our firefighters arrived, they went into the area and noticed a light haze in the building.

“Knauf’s shipping and receiving area was a very old building and it had been added on to ... modified multiple times which was a problem for the firefighters. The short version of what happened was ... they had a fire in the middle of the wall and had multiple layers approximately 18 inches wide. The fire was inside of there. Thermal cameras could not pick that up. The fire got above the ceiling, same thing with multiple layers of ceiling. We know this because after the fire was investigated, we tried to set up a mock to try and figure out what happened (at Knauf). Why did our cameras not work? How did we get guys hurt? The fact is, the density of those walls, the camera could not see through that. So the fire go inside the wall, went up into the ceiling and traveled quite a ways before notification.”

The weather outside did not help with the struggles the fire department was having in dealing with a fire in a large commercial building. 

“Keep in mind that day was four below zero ... it was very cold outside,” continued Logan. “The firefighters arrived on the scene and spent a lot of time trying to find out where this smoke is coming from. It was baffling to a lot of firefighters. There was a flashover or explosion-type incident that blew firefighters across the loading dock area and sent one of our guys to the hospital. At that point, we started pulling firefighters out of the building and had more of a defensive posture. 

“Again, it was four below zero that day and there were 12-18 inches of snow two to three days prior to this fire. We literally had to have the street department come over with front-end loaders and plow out so we could get other apparatus to pull in there. There were several problems that happened that day. All of our hydrants were frozen around that area that day.”

The fire was rolling through Knauf and that added pressure to extinguish the fire, according to Logan, realizing many jobs were at stake that fateful day. And nearby sat a contractor’s million dollar crane that could have been in jeopardy if the fire spread.

“We started trying to find hydrants in other areas,” said Logan. “We called over to the Greensburg Fire Department and they sent over another ladder with an aerial device. We had Greenfield. Sugar Creek came down with another truck and we started to surround it and putting water on it.”

The temperature really became an issue then. Water would freeze in the hoses if the stream was not kept steady. And all the residual water was turning the ground around the complex into a wet and icy mess.

“Then we got the notification that we were running out of water,” continued Logan. “The city was running out of water.”

Over the next 12 hours, the call was put out around Central Indiana for tankers to assist. 

“At one point I was told we had 58 tankers on the scene. It was one of the largest tanker operations in central Indiana,” said Logan. “We never ran out of water that day.”

That fire lasted approximately 17 hours, according to Logan, and between overtime and expenses, the city of Shelbyville spent about $68,000 that day. But no one was seriously injured in the battle.

Logan shared details of other well-known fires including three fires prior to 1900, the 1928 City Hall fire, a 1954 furniture factory fire, the 1981 downtown fire on the northwest corner of the square, the Wendy’s fire on East State Road 44, a three-story apartment building fire in 1986 adjacent to the former Tippecanoe Press building, and the Bishopp’s Appliance fire on North Harrison St.

The conversation series continues on March 6 at the Strand with the topic, “The 1913 Flood.”

There is no admission charge for the series.