More than 100 West Central Illinois workers breathed a sigh of relief this week as they were informed they would not be losing their jobs or even a next paycheck.
21 years ago today, Gary and Teresa Westermeyer started what became Westermeyer Industries out of their home. Last Friday afternoon, a fire destroyed more than two-thirds of the 110,000 square foot facility located on Route 100 south of Bluffs that the Westermeyer’s business had grown into.
On Monday morning, twenty staff members joined Gary and Teresa in their home, with several in the same office they used to start the business. Gary Westermeyer says supervisors and office staff met to begin thinking through what needed to be done to get the business back up and running.
Firefighters from 12 different area departments fought the blaze for more than seven hours Friday in an effort to save the 34,000 square foot westerly addition to the plant. The building that made up one-third of the facility was separated from the main structure by an estimated eight to ten feet, but that was just enough space for fire crews to save the structure.
Gary Westermeyer says the group was able to hit the ground running on Monday to begin getting back up and running. “We were able to restore power to that building on Monday, and we got air restored today and we’ve actually started some welding in there already so we’re actually up and running in there. Very limited but day by day we’ll get stronger in that building.”
Westermeyer says none of the 110 people employed at the business will have to worry about their jobs because they all still have one. “Everyone stays on the payroll and they are all on call. Today we have maybe forty of the entire crew here today. So they know they are to be called in at a moment’s notice to come in and help either with the clean-up or start production in that building once we get more pieces of equipment laid down.
We will be running at least two shifts and we may try to run twenty-four hours because I think we are going to need that. I wasn’t aware in the industry, I mean, you always think that your business means something but when you hear your customers needing you desperately, you know, you don’t realize the impact this little business here in this cornfield has.”
Westermeyer says he and Teresa have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from not only the local community but also customers around the world and even some of their major competitors. He says they feel blessed and can’t begin to express how thankful they are for those who came to their aid.
“The people that showed up were a godsend, and again I can’t say enough. It was community, they all pulled together and help us save this business, and again we’re looking at a building that was saved because of all their efforts.
You know, when my wife and I started this twenty-one years ago, we felt that we were inspired and led by God to do it, and so this didn’t take him by surprise, and we’ll march forward and the next chapter of this book gets written, and starts today.”
All of the employees on hand were able to evacuate the building without issue or injury Friday afternoon and no first responders suffered any injuries in extinguishing the blaze.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the State Fire Marshall’s Office, however, the Westermeyers have been given the go-ahead to begin demolition and clean-up of the site. Gary says they have already spoken to a number of contractors and are already working on plans to rebuild the site as soon as possible.
A full-page ad in the Scott County Times today thanks all of the first responders for their efforts during the fire and is signed simply, beauty through ashes, thank you, Gary and Teresa.