Fire forces employees' evacuation at Snap-On plant

By Thomas Wilson

   A Monday afternoon fire at the Snap-On Tools manufacturing plant in Elizabethton sent workers scrambling out of the building and one employee to the hospital with minor smoke inhalation, according to Elizabethton Fire Department officials.
   "We had a fire in the exhaust system," said Fire Chief Mike Shouse. "It made for a tense few moments."
   Elizabethton Fire Department responded to the plant shortly after 3 p.m.
   "It was a small fire, and it was put out pretty quickly," said Barry Carrier, EFD fire marshal. "There was not a lot of fire, but there was a lot of smoke. The sprinkler system and the alarm system did go off."
   Plant officials deferred questions about the fire to plant manager Gary Oldenberg, who was not immediately available for comment.
   Carrier said that when the plant's sprinkler system activated, the water came down into the facility's main electrical room.
   "We tried to cover the main electrical components with tarp, but the water got in anyway," he said, "which caused the electrical arching in the main electrical panels, which have very high voltage."
   The "explosion" reported at the plant was actually the arching electricity mimicking a lightening strike and subsequent thunder clap, he said.
   "We had to shut the power off. When the power was shut down, that caused a problem with the furnaces," said Carrier. "Once the power went off, there was a process they have to go through called emergency manual shut down mode to shut the furnaces down."
   Snap-On, Inc. is an S&P 500 company, which manufactures tools and equipment including hand and power tools, automotive diagnostics and shop equipment, tool storage products, and automotive diagnostics software.
   The company's Elizabethton plant employs approximately 250 workers.
   Carrier stated that he had conducted an inspection of the plant within the past year and found the alarm and sprinkler systems were working properly.
   The extent of the damage and the plant's operational capability through Tuesday were unknown at press time.
   Shouse said one employee suffered minor smoke inhalation and was transported to Sycamore Shoals Hospital. County rescue personnel declined to release the victim's name.
   No firefighters were injured in the incident, and an investigation into the exact cause of the fire was ongoing, said Carrier.